By Sgt. Luis Delgadillo, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 7, 2008 - In a vital and encouraging boost to the fight against al Qaeda in Iraq, local sheiks met with coalition forces officials Jan. 4 to discuss future concerned citizen programs. Sheiks from areas surrounding Sayafia spoke with Army Col. Terry Ferrell, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, and Army Col. Dan Ball, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division Combat Aviation Brigade.
The sheiks introduced themselves to Ferrell and Ball and told the leaders of crimes and injustices that al Qaeda had perpetrated. In one instance, an Iraqi man described being forced from his home by al Qaeda operatives who now use his property as a safe house. He pleaded with both leaders to help him get his property back, to which Ferrell replied, "That's what I'm here to do."
Ferrell also told the sheiks that he hopes they are serious about their commitment to the area.
"We're going to work with you, and we're going to kill anyone who is a threat to the Iraqi population," he said.
The sheiks shared information with Ferrell about the whereabouts and strength of al Qaeda forces. Ferrell emphasized to the community leaders that providing such information is the most important thing they can do.
Ferrell also urged the sheiks not to arm their respective communities and have people hunt for insurgents. Militias are illegal in Iraq, and citizen groups need to focus their efforts on providing information on terrorist activities in their villages, he said.
In a written statement issued by Multinational Force Iraq on behalf of the command and the U.S. Embassy, coalition military leaders praised the sheiks' efforts to cooperate in taking their communities back from insurgents.
"MNF-I applauds Iraq's political, civic, and religious leadership for their courage and commitment to the new Iraq," the statement said. "As tribal sheiks and leaders from councils and other organizations gathered in recent weeks to denounce violence and work toward common goals of peace and economic prosperity, the people of Iraq have found strength in their unified vision for Iraq's future. Gathering in response to calls from their leaders, Iraqis are banding together to drive out extremists and restore security in their neighborhoods. Iraqis from all communities are against al Qaeda (in) Iraq and other extremists and are sending a strong message on the importance of achieving reconciliation and unifying Iraq.
"As Iraqis look forward and frame a common vision for building their war-torn nation," the statement continued, "MNF-I and the U.S. Embassy will continue to partner with the government of Iraq to assist them in their efforts to restore essential services and help them achieve their goals."
(Army Sgt. Luis Delgadillo serves with 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office. This report also includes information from a Multinational Force Iraq news release.)