STEVE INSKEEP, host:
In Iraq today, the United States handed security control of Anbar Province to the Iraqis. That's significant because Anbar was the heart of the Sunni insurgency against U.S. forces. It was also the scene of some of the bloodiest battles of the war. Now conditions have improved. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is in the city of Ramadi in that western province, and we reached her earlier today during the handover ceremony.
And Lourdes, what's happening where you are?
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have to say, there's been a lot of security for this event today. The entire city's under curfew, and the event itself has been very low-key. They tried to keep it very quiet. There aren't a lot of people here, only the people that are directly involved on the American and the Iraqi side.
But everyone that I've spoken to here today has called this an historic occasion, and certainly the Iraqis say that they wouldn't have imagined this to have been possible one year ago. So a sense of satisfaction both on the American and on the Iraqi side.
INSKEEP: And we're hearing some sounds in the background. I guess that's the speaker going on right now?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's exactly right. Typically for these ceremonies there are a series of speeches. They're just making the announcement that the document is being signed. And everyone's rushing towards this table that has been set up in front of the Provincial Council Building. Right now they are actually signing the document that will formally hand over control from the Americans to the Iraqis. So it's a moment of silence. A good moment to talk to you.
INSKEEP: Now, I suppose as we go through this moment of silence, quietly, Lourdes, we should mention that you're in Ramadi, which is a city that when we've checked in in past years, U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies seemed to control nothing more than their bases. And maybe not even a block away from the bases.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's exactly right. This was one of the bloodiest battlegrounds for the Americans. This was one of the places where most American soldiers and Marines have died in conflicts like Fallujah, in conflicts like Ramadi, in Haditha. I have to say, there's a great sense of poignancy for the American generals who have come here today. And in their speeches they have alluded to the fact of how many Americans have lost their lives in this battle and how many Iraqis as well.
Speaking to the chief of police today, he remembered not being able to get anyone near the provincial council building, the people inside the provincial council building, not being able to exercise any authority in the city at all, and he remembers having bloody battles on the very street that I'm standing on right now. And today it is a completely different scenario.
Much of the credit for that goes to the Awakening movement. And they have been feted here today. The Awakening movement, about a year and a half ago, these were Sunni tribal sheiks who broke with al-Qaida and joined the Americans and battled against al-Qaida and really are credited with returning security back to Anbar.
INSKEEP: Although I do have to ask, wasn't this ceremony supposed to happen a couple of months ago?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yes, it was. Even though security has improved here, funnily enough you speak to many of the different players here - from the Awakening movement, from the Iraqi security forces, from the political side of things - and they're all quite ambivalent about this happening, because there are tensions between all these groups. They are vying for power, vying for control. Elections are supposed to be coming up. And the Awakening movement wants to become a political body to fight against the Iraqi Islamic Party, which is in control here.
So we see a lot of different things going on at the moment. And they were very ambivalent for the Americans to hand over control to the Iraqis, because they were seen as sort of peacemaker between all these different groups. And when this was supposed to happen there was a very large suicide bombing near Fallujah. And that also raised the specter that perhaps Anbar wasn't as secure as it had been touted to be.
So what we're seeing now is the handover's finally happening, but everyone has said, listen, al-Qaida is still around, security isn't perfect, and there are all these tensions between these Sunnis groups, but it is time for the Iraqis to assume control.
INSKEEP: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro spoke with us from Ramadi in Iraq.
Lourdes, thanks very much.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's where Iraqis are now taking charge formally.
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