- Title: IRAQ: U.S. trophy for Iraq security losing its shine
- Date: 27th March 2008
- Summary: (MER - 1) RAMADI, IRAQ (RECENT) (REUTERS) STREET IN RAMADI CITY/ IRAQI HUMVEE AMONGST TRAFFIC PEOPLE CROSSING STREET/ IRAQI HUMVEE AT BACKGROUND POLICE VEHICLE WITH WAILING SIREN DRIVING THROUGH STREET CROWDED VEGETABLE MARKET IN RAMADI
- Embargoed: 11th April 2008 13:00
- Location: Iraq
- Country: Iraq
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA3I9BTYM9EPJYNNHCJ7MLOXK0C
- Story Text: Tensions resurface in the once bloody Anbar province, which Washington has held up as a security success story.
Tensions are simmering again in once bloody Anbar province, Washington's prize good news story for security in Iraq.
Along the main road through Anbar's second city of Falluja, a former insurgent stronghold and scene of fierce battles with U.S. forces in 2004, life is slowly emerging as markets and car workshops re-open for business.
But many say that growing anger at a lack of jobs, basic services and political progress threatens to shatter the peace in the western province, which makes up about a third of Iraq.
"The improved security situation is not enough for the people of Falluja because unemployment is rife, especially among youths and graduates.
There are still no jobs, therefore a number of young people are without jobs and this can cause a lot of problems that can badly affect the security condition," a Falluja city resident said.
The U.S. military said in January it could transfer security responsibility for Anbar to Iraqi forces as early as this month, but now it is more cautious.
In an interview with Reuters, Major-General John Kelly, commander of U.S. forces in Anbar, would give no time-frame, saying only that the handover would take place soon.
At a Falluja city council meeting, convened to discuss reconstruction projects, progress was not encouraging as accusations and excuses ping-ponged around the table.
The city desperately needs potable water, but a plan to stop sewage contamination has dragged on for months. The province was also once a major manufacturing centre, but little has been done to re-open the factories that at one time employed thousands.
Falluja councillors and the U.S. military have said job creation is crucial to enduring security. The unemployment figure in Falluja alone is 20,000, according to city council leader Sheikh Hameed al-Alwani.
Locals are afraid this will push some to work for insurgents.
"When you are unemployed or when you do not have a job, anyone who comes and offers you money, 10,000 U.S. dollars (USD) or more, and tells you to kill someone for him, in my opinion, I think, you will do it because you are living harsh conditions and you are searching for a way out to makemeet," said Abdul Sattar Shafiq, headmaster of al-Khansa primary school.
Sunni tribal leaders, credited with cutting violence in Anbar by ordering their men to turn on Sunni Islamist al Qaeda, are growing increasingly impatient with politicians.
Crucial to the turnaround in security in Anbar are the 4,000 members of the Awakening Councils, or Sahwa, a mostly Sunni movement dedicated to fighting al-Qaeda. Many members were former insurgents.
The councils are headed by tribal leaders, who started the now nation-wide movement in Anbar province, disgusted by al-Qaeda's indiscriminate attacks and harsh interpretation of Islam.
"Al-Sahwa had a vital role in stabilising the security situation in the Anbar province. Sahwa men fought al-Qaeda together with the people of the tribes and they joined police and army forces when the security situation stabilised. We are now basking in the grace of peace, thank God," said Khattab Omar Ali Sulaiman, Sheikh of the Dulaim tribes.
Sulaiman blamed the Iraqi government of neglect.
"The American forces started to reconstruct the city of Ramadi 10 months ago and it is still going on. The Iraqi government has not contributed to the reconstruction process of Ramadi. It is done by Americans only,"
The Sunni tribal leaders' thousands of followers, who once formed the backbone of a bloody Sunni Arab insurgency against U.S. and Iraqi forces, are demanding to be drafted into Iraq's army and police force, or otherwise be found decent jobs.
Most Sunnis boycotted 2005 local polls and blame local councillors they say do not represent them for delays in jobs and services. The councillors blame the government in Baghdad.
A provincial powers law that would give local councils a stronger mandate to rebuild and also pave the way for fresh local polls -- which could give tribal leaders and other Sunnis more political clout -- has been held up by political haggling.
Local elections must be held as soon as possible if violence is to be kept at bay in Anbar, Kelly said last week.
The U.S. military pays Sahwa members USD 300 a month to patrol their neighbourhoods and man checkpoints. Many want to join the army and police, where the pay is better.
Iraq's Shi'ite-led government, wary of a force that includes many former insurgents in its ranks, has agreed to absorb only 20 percent of Iraq's 90,000-odd Sahwa members into the security forces. The rest are to be offered vocational training.
Meanwhile, the Sahwa leadership has formed a political party, and are like others in Anbar pinning their hopes for progress to the provincial polls, due by Oct. 1.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
- Usage Terms/Restrictions: None