FALLUJAH, Iraq - "Fallujah and the Marines have some history. In 2004, one savage battle ended when the Marines were pulled out for political reasons. Later that year, they had to finish the job.
And they did. They took down the terrorists' stronghold in a week of fury.
With a fundamentalist tradition, Fallujah seemed to fit al Qaeda perfectly. Robbed of their Saddam-era privileges and out for revenge, even secular locals had aligned with the terrorists. Despite the Marine victory, violence simmered on.
The extremists and insurgents believed they could wear America down. But between 2004 and 2007, two things happened: We wore them down - and al Qaeda wore them out.
With foreign fanatics butchering the innocent and enforcing prison-yard "Islamic laws" that far exceeded the Koran's demands, it belatedly dawned on the insurgents that, while we intended to leave eventually - on our own terms - al Qaeda meant to stay.
A wave of suicide bombings earlier this year, culminating in a massive attack on a funeral procession, made the population snap. The people of Fallujah may never love us, but they hate al Qaeda with the rage of a betrayed lover.
Since May, the change has been stunning. When the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines were last in Fallujah, in 2006, they took casualties from snipers and roadside bombs. The city was violent, bankrupt and partly in ruins.
Now the battalion's back. And welcome. Marines banter with the locals where, six months ago, it was risky to ride in an armored vehicle.
...And the locals are out in front of us in the fight against al Qaeda. Which is a big thing.
I was in the city during one of the last phases of Operation Alljah, which has been bringing the rule of law back to the city's precincts, one by one. In the hours of darkness, Marine engineers swept in and blocked the roads in and out of one of the last un-purged districts with Jersey barriers. The police moved in to bust suspected terrorists and kick out hoodlums who don't have local roots.
In a "swarm," identification cards are provided to all, beginning with the local movers and shakers. Volunteers are vetted to join the police or armed neighborhood-watch groups. And revitalization programs go into gear.
Capt. Mason Harlow, the Fox Company commander, was wounded by shrapnel two years ago. In Fallujah. Now he's back, overseeing the Hadari District and two others. His Marines haven't been attacked for months. And his former enemies are doing his work for him.
Capt. Harlow didn't think he'd live to see the day."
All that needed to be done was to give our guys the okay to do what they do best. It took a lot of political courage to expose US fighting men to the potential slings and arrows from the likes of a Murtha, and he did his best to portray Marines as bloodthirsty killers.
But the worm has at long last turned. Its good to see Ralph in the sandbox, and I'm wondering when Murtha, Pelosi, RodHam, et al will be taking a trip of their own to report upon what's really happening.
Yeah, I'm joking.