Sunni, U.S. Leaders Unite Against Al-Qaida in Anbar

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A senior U.S. diplomat visits Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, once the most dangerous place in Iraq for U.S. troops but now the scene of an alliance with Sunni tribal leaders bent on destroying al-Qaida in Iraq.


Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte was in Iraq today, and he paid a visit to Ramadi. The city is in the western province of al-Anbar, which has been the scene of the some of worst violence in Iraq over the past four years. Until recently, it was also a stronghold for the Sunni insurgency and groups linked to al-Qaida. But over the past few months, local tribal leaders have banded together to fight al-Qaida, helping to bring stability to the province.

NPR's Rachel Martin reports.

RACHEL MARTIN: This was Negroponte's first trip back to Ramadi since he finished up his assignment as U.S. ambassador to Iraq in the spring of 2006. He was taken in a Marine convoy of armored trucks on a tour of the city. Colonel Philip Wasalusky(ph) works with local leaders in Ramadi. Along the way, he pointed out dump trucks carrying away massive amounts of broken concrete and other debris that still fill the city streets, as well as a pedestrian overpass recently painted blue with red flowers, and a newly renovated municipal building. Negroponte asked the colonel about security in Ramadi.

Colonel PHILIP WASALUSKY: Sir, we had about 30 to 35 attacks a day when we got here in February. Our daily average is been one attack a day now. And that's not just in Ramadi.

Mr. JOHN NEGROPONTE (U.S. Deputy Secretary of State): That's around the area?

Col. WASALUSKY: That's the whole area.

Mr. NEGROPONTE: We're having...

Col. WASALUSKY: We haven't had a mortar attack in about three months to four months maybe.

MARTIN: Marine generals in Anbar province say that dramatic turnaround is due in large part to the cooperation from local sheiks. Last fall about a dozen of the most influential tribal leaders in the province got together and decided to back coalition forces in the fight against al-Qaida by forming something called the Anbar Salvation Council. The sheiks agreed that the attacks on their people by al-Qaida and related groups had to stop. And the best way to make that happen, was to start working with U.S. forces. In the Ramadi municipal building, Negroponte sat down with seven local sheiks to pay his respects.

Mr. NEGROPONTE: Since there have been so many developments here, both in Fallujah and then in Ramadi and in the province as a whole, I'd be very interested in hearing your views as to the current situation, the challenges you face and the opportunities that you see.

MARTIN: Sheik Satar of the Abu Risha tribe put the Salvation Council together and has been instrumental in recruiting thousands of men for the Iraqi police, providing intelligence to U.S. forces and encouraging other tribes to do the same.

Dressed in black robe with gold trim and a white headdress, Satar was seated in a place of honor, next to Negroponte. He addressed his guests through an interpreter.

Sheik ABDUL SATAR ABU RISHA (Salvation Council Leader, Ramadi): (Through Translator) We have witnessed and survived, a united cause against terrorism, and we fought back and we wish to proceed with our good intent and good relations. And now it's indeed the time for the next phase, which is rebuilding and reconstructing the city.

MARTIN: There are some signs that alliances among the sheiks may be shifting. As the situation becomes more secure in Anbar, some sheiks who had fled because of the violence are now returning home. As a result, old rivalries are reemerging, threatening to divide the alliance. But Iraqi and American officials here insist the tribes remain united in their fight against al-Qaida.

After returning to Baghdad, Deputy Secretary of State Negroponte spoke to reporters there about his visit.

Mr. NEGROPONTE: My briefings in Ramadi made clear that Iraq's citizens can also do more to retake control of their towns and cities. Working in consultation with coalition forces and Iraqi security forces, Anbar leaders are reversing the control al-Qaida once had in their province.

MARTIN: It's a dynamic that coalition forces and the U.S. government would like to recreate throughout Iraq.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, Ramadi.

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