Ramadi, Iraq is just over 70 miles from Iraq’s capital and was once a bustling city—Iraq’s third largest. With the famed Euphrates River running through the middle of it, Ramadi has been a focal point of military strategy since World War I, when it became part of the Ottoman Empire. During the Iraq War, Ramadi was hotly contested and the city was plunged into chaos, with savage fighting between coalition forces and the loyal fanatics of al-Zarqawi.
After declaring “victory” in 2007, coalition forces withdrew from Ramadi in 2011 and al-Qaeda quickly resumed its attacks. Upon this withdrawal, a power vacuum developed with the Sunni-dominated Islamic State rising to control. After intense and violent fighting, within days, ISIS had “purged the entire city,” taking the 8th Brigade Army base that once housed American military units while the Iraqi Army hastily retreated, sacrificing the city to this fanatical insurgency once again.
With help from the U.S. and others, Iraq has retaken this important city once again, but the cost to this city has been enormous and it remains in a state of unimaginable ruin. Ramadi is still not quite fully liberated, as pockets of resistance by some 150-250 ISIS fighters remain. In addition, the streets are riddled with IEDs and mines, while the structures that still remain are pockmarked with bullet holes and shrapnel wounds. Though authorities have said that they have restored water service to nearly 80 percent of the city, more is needed for rebuilding, and the available funding amounts to a mere trickle compared to what is required.
The U.N. is currently seeking $400 million from the U.S. and its allies to cover the rebuilding efforts across the battle-scarred landscape of Iraq. Cities like Ramadi and Tikrit have been reduced to smoldering devastation during these heavy combat operations for their liberation.
U.S. officials have stated that they have allocated $5 million to demining Ramadi, another $5 million will be provided by Norway, and additional funding from partners in the coalition is forthcoming. Though this is encouraging, this in only a fraction of what will ultimately be needed to ensure the rebuilding of Iraq. This rebuilding will be crucial to making continued progress against terror groups such as ISIS. They flourish within the abject poverty birthed from conflict. Their recruiting efforts sprout in the midst of this desolation and thrive in wastelands of deprivation.
An investment in their infrastructure will produce dividends for generations, dividends not only to the people of Iraq and the Middle East, but to America and her allies. By ensuring the success of this region—not just freeing it from the chains of radical Islamic terrorism, but giving it a foundation to prosper—we and the rest of the civilized world can breathe easier knowing terror groups have one less area to seed from.
Ten years ago, I found myself in the streets of Ramadi and saw the blood of my brothers and sisters fertilize a freedom we were tasked to export. We all hoped the sacrifices of our fallen would be the final price in securing peace for these people and ultimately peace for us and the citizens of the world. The failure of our leaders to follow through, and every new report of the instability in the region our troops bled over, haunt me.
We find ourselves in a similar position to where we were in 2007, with the same potential to fail at the follow-through due to expense. Let’s put it into perspective: Will we fail to ensure this victory over terror because of our inability to see past this precarious win? Will we instead defer this payment to our children and allow them to pay with their lives and those of their children instead of the dollars we could potentially spend today?