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Attacks are declining in the area and the area is slowly being stabilized, he said.

“They are calling it the Al Anbar Awakening,” Sgt. Harding said. “Many sheiks have united. They realized the Americans are not leaving. At first the sheiks supported the terrorists - this was when I was here last time and it was all-out gunbattles and [improvised explosive devices] and suicide bombings. Now sheiks realize Americans have money and power and are not leaving. So half of them, Sunnis, have decided to work with the U.S. to get rid of the terrorists.” Although half of Ramadi is a war zone, the other half is becoming secure with open schools, businesses and hospitals, he said.

“So much progress has happened! My friends who died here did not die in vain. It moves me deeply. I feel tears welling up in me as I type this.” Like many deployed in Iraq, Sgt. Harding had no kind words for the press covering the war. He said he wanted people back home to know what’s going on in Ramadi and Anbar and not the “if it bleeds, it leads,” reporting mentality of most newspapers and television stations.

“Please know I love you and pray for you each night for about 10 minutes,” Sgt. Harding said. “The other 23 hours and 50 minutes are total dedication to my Marines and our mission and accomplishing the job - total focus, absolute focus, one mind and heart focus at studying my enemy and the terrain and using my Marines to prevent them from attacking. And if they do attack us, to use overwhelming actions against them.” Sgt. Harding said God must be happy with the Anbar Awakening “because these poor families are finally getting a small taste of normal life.” “How much has Iraqi people suffered under Saddam and now insurgents, and their unorganized sheiks and tribal elders. Now slowly these issues are being resolved.” * Bill Gertz covers the Pentagon. He can be reached at 202/636-3274 or at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.