By Army Sgt. Jerry Saslav
Special to American Forces Press Service
Nov. 4, 2008 - Though official invitations went out to only about 100 people, word of mouth caused more than 300 people to show up Nov. 1 for a tribal council meeting in Baghdad's Adhamiyah district. "About 75 percent of the sheiks in the room were guys in the past who had not supported coalition forces or the Iraqi government," said Army Lt. Col. Michael Pappal, who serves in Multinational Division Baghdad as commander of the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
The sheiks met to find peaceful solutions for their differences, Pappal said.
"People used to be scared to come to large meetings in Adhamiyah," Brig. Gen. Hussein Mutlaq Saleh al-Dleme, the district police commander, said. "This is a big sign of security improving."
Sheiks representing Adhamiyah's 15 tribes, as well as Sunni and Shiia tribal sheiks from Kadhamiyah, Zafroniyah, Dora, Shaab, Basateen, Latifiyah, Mahmoudiyah, Muckdadiyah, Djal and Saladin crowded into the room. Also in attendance were a representative of Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki, the imam of the Abu Hanifa Mosque, an Islamic Party parliament member, a representative of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's organization, Adhamiyah's city manager and Brig. Gen. Tariq Abdul Kareem, commander of the 11th Iraqi Army Division's 42nd Brigade.
The meeting opened with a passage from the Koran that stressed unity. "We should all get along with no racism, no sectarianism -- one tribe, one family, all brothers," was the passage's message. Messages supporting the overall progress in Adhamiyah from the prime minister's office and the Islamic Party were read to the audience.
The tribal council and a group representing middle-class Adhamiyah residents addressed the assembled audience. They urged their fellow Iraqis to choose qualified people in the upcoming elections and continue reconciliation efforts. They asked the Iraqi government and coalition forces to accelerate the pace at which detainees are being released and to help displaced residents returning to the area find homes. They also asked the Iraqi government to help to create jobs for the people and to provide financial restitution for the 3,000 Adhamiyah families who lost family members to violence.
An indication of how the mood of the area has changed, officials said, was when the Sadr organization's representative addressed the group. After speaking of the need for Sunni and Shiia Muslims to work together, he began to blame coalition forces for sectarian violence and indicated that if the Iraqi government was not up to the task of keeping the peace, then the Sadr organization would handle the job.
When the speaker noticed that his last statements were not well received, officials said, he went back to his previous comments about the need for Sunni and Shiia to work together, and that dialogue with coalition forces was needed.
Gov. Husayn Mohammed Ali al-Tahan of Iraq's Baghdad province, said that although physical and sectarian barriers had allowed security to develop, the time has come to remove those barriers. He pointed out that meetings like this one were once held only in the International Zone, and now they can be held anywhere.
He added that sheiks from Dubai have contacted him about investing in Baghdad, and that he had asked them to build apartments for 100,000 people near Gaziliyah. It takes security for these kinds of investors to be interested, the governor said.
"We need to be one, or we will fall," he said.
Sabar Abu Firas, a sheik who is a leader in the local "Sons of Iraq" citizen security group, ended the ceremony with a message to Maliki: "Adhamiyah is with the prime minister and the government of Iraq."
(Army Sgt. Jerry Saslav serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)