Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sunni and Shia sheiks unite in Balad

by Rick Rzepka
1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division

BALAD, Iraq (April 12, 2008) — For the first time since sectarian tension embroiled the Balad area, Sunni and Shia sheiks and local community leaders gathered in the same place to promote unity among various tribes. More than one hundred sheiks and tribal elders from the communities of Duluiyah, Ishaki and the surrounding area gathered in a town-hall style meeting on April 3 to discuss repairing fractious differences in an attempt to bring peace and prosperity to the citizens of the region, which is comprised of about 40 percent Shia and 60 percent Sunni.

While tensions mount in the southern province of Basra, Shia and Sunni leaders have pledged cooperation and unity in the Balad area in an effort to stimulate the local economy through recent security gains.

Local sheiks in Balad discuss the way forward during a Qadah meeting with the governor of the Salah ad Din province on April 3, 2008. Both Sunni and Shia sheiks attended the meeting together for the first time in more than a year.Among the Shieks and elders, the governor of the Salah ad Din province, Hamad Hamood Shekti, was all smiles as he spoke enthusiastically about the way forward for the Iraqi people. “There is hope here today,” said Shekti who praised the sheiks for setting aside their differences to build on common ground. “Today we are not Shi’a or Sunni, we are Iraqis,” he said.

Employment and security were on the minds of most of the Iraqi influencers as they clamored over which comes first, jobs or guns. For many here, the answer is jobs. “We must be able to support our families,” said a Sunni sheik. “We must be able to work together,” he said. In 2006 the flow of commerce and transportation were severed along sectarian fault lines causing small businesses and the local economy to suffer, but as the security situation continues to improve here, many Iraqis are heading back to work and are beginning to recognize the need to travel freely.

The sheiks also discussed bolstering the Iraqi security forces in the area to ease travel restrictions. To facilitate the people’s trust and a more prosperous marketplace, Iraqi leaders are pushing for a more diversified security force that reflects the face of the people. “I would like to see more people volunteer for the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police,” said Balad Mayor Amar Hali Mirhon. “More participation from other tribes encourages the population to trust the army and police,” he said.

As the people of the Balad area continue to see an improved security situation, they are gaining confidence in the cooperation between local leaders. “We understand that a lot of people lost their jobs because of past events, but we have settled our differences, and we welcome you all,” said Balad City Council Vice President Malik Lafta Ahmad.

Local sheiks in Balad discuss the way forward during a Qadah meeting with the governor of the Salah ad Din province on April 3, 2008.

Source: CentCom. Digg! Digg!

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