A U.S. Marine, Lance
Cpl. James M. Gluff was killed in western Iraq on January 19th. Gluff shot a
suicide bomber that was approaching his platoon. The explosion killed the
bomber, and Gluff, but saved the lives of many nearby marines. This was the first marine combat death in
Iraq in 103 days (since last October.) A marine regiment (over 4,000 troops)
has been patrolling Anbar province (which comprises most of western Iraq) for quite
some time. The marines have worked out security arrangements with most of the
Sunni Arab tribes that dominate the area. That has sharply reduced the violence.
So far this month, 29 U.S. military personnel have died in combat in Iraq.
Marines returning to Iraq, are
surprised at the reduction in terrorist violence. These veterans are noting
things like a 90 percent reduction in the number of roadside bombs encountered.
This has a dangerous side effect, as it's harder to stay alert, to possible
roadside bombs, while on patrol, because you spot so few of them. In the past,
you could be sure to at least one for every two patrols. But now, many younger
marines, in Iraq for the first time, have yet to encounter any bombs or gun
fire after dozens of patrols. These marines are disappointed, and fearful that
they will not earn the Combat Action Ribbon. For years, marines associated
Anbar with war, but now it's just another quiet patch of desert.