RAMADI, Iraq -- For the first time since the liberation of Iraq, an Iraqi Prime Minister visited Al Anbar province, sending a strong message of the Iraqi Transitional Government’s commitment to the western-most region Sunday.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Ja’afari and the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, met with Al Anbar Governor, Ma’amoun Sami Rashid, and members of the Anbar Security Council to discuss the province’s successes, challenges and the importance of participation in Iraq’s new government. The prime minister emphasized the vital role Al Anbar plays in the unification of Iraq and pledged to assist in its progress.
“No doubt we are on a new path … but I am here, and I am willing to put in my full efforts to help Iraq. All of it, not only parts,” Ja’afari said.
After the 2nd Marine Division conducted several major operations in the region and multiple intelligence driven operations that removed insurgent leadership, security in the area began to improve.
Attention from Baghdad has grown substantially as the Provincial Governor has become more influential nationally and when Coalition Forces, the provincial government, and religious and tribal leaders began a dialogue to resolve security issues, resulting in the formation of the Anbar Security Council. The weekly Security Council meetings that followed appeared to demonstrate a desire from local leaders to take responsibility for their province and led to separate visits from the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior throughout the past few weeks.
The local leaders began to heed the words spoken by 2nd Marine Division leadership back in March which was essentially that the citizens of Al Anbar must become responsible for their future. “We’re seeing Iraqis take increasing responsibility for Iraq,” said Khalilzad. “We remain determined – for as long as it takes – in the fight against terrorism.”
With several Al Anbar citizens expressing their desire to become fully independent, security and the presence of Coalition Forces became a major theme throughout the meeting, also attended by the Minister of Industry and Minerals, the Commanding General of Multi-National Forces – Iraq, Army Gen. George W. Casey, and the Commanding General of 2nd Marine Division, Maj. Gen. Richard A. Huck.
Sheik Anwar Al Karbit, a local leader, said the security problems in the province are comprised of three main entities: the terrorists, the resistance and the criminals.
“We, as Anbaris and as Iraqis, reject terrorism and all it stands for,” said Karbit. But the resistance, he said, is not supported by the people – it is respected.
“Anyone whose nation is occupied will feel a duty to resist, but we are here to find the way to move away from this violent resistance and get on the path to solve our problems,” he said.
Karbit added that the resistance is the reason the people want to participate in the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police. He stated that once this is accomplished, they will replace Coalition Forces in the cities and provide their own security.
“The terrorists are the cancer we are living with, but we reject it. That is why we discuss and talk and reach agreements. We will rid ourselves of this cancer,” said Karbit.
The prime minister agreed with Karbit, saying that they are working towards these goals but it will take time. The sheiks are vital to the progress and must continue to work with the government to help all of the people of Al Anbar.
Addressing the concerns of the Coalition Forces’ occupation in the country, the prime minister said, “This has been a huge cost on the Multi National Forces … trying to help us. It has cost them a lot in terms of effort, money, lives, blood and political capital.
“The Coalition Forces are not here occupying us,” said Ja’afari. “They are here because the Iraqi government has asked them to stay and help us until we are powerful enough to protect our cities, our people and our rights.”
The leaders of Al Anbar were also praised throughout the afternoon by the prime minister, ambassador, and Casey for the accomplishments across the region. Casey congratulated the governor on the province’s progress, saying he was very impressed with the people’s participation in the elections.
Highlighting the governor’s intent to move the province forward, Rashid and the Security Council presented a $75 million request for reconstruction and rebuilding projects to the prime minister, which he promptly signed for approval.
Khalilzad complimented the governor on completing $23 million worth of projects in Al Anbar, but said security is slowing down reconstruction efforts.
“Working in (the Al Anbar province) is not easy. It is very slow here. Contractors feel intimidated.”
Even with the tragedy of the past and the challenges of the future, meetings such as this, many agreed, are a sign of progress.
“This is independence – having the voices of the many heard and recognized by all so dialogue and actions can be taken,” Ja’afari said.