Iraqi Town Slowly Returns to Normal
JOHN YDSTIE, Host:
NPR's Jamie Tarabay recently returned to Amiriyah and filed this report.
JAMIE TARABAY: An elderly man picks up different sized bolts from grease-smeared boxes on the counter inside Mustaffa Abdul Satar's(ph) mechanical parts shop. There was a time when Abdul Satar was suspected of helping the fighters of al-Qaida in Iraq plot roadside bombs outside his store on one of Amiriya's main streets.
MUSTAFFA ABDUL SATAR: (Through translator) We used to leave as soon as we saw the men from al-Qaida coming. Otherwise when the bombs exploded the Americans would come after us.
TARABAY: But that was before local Sunni volunteers turned against al-Qaida and forged an alliance with U.S. troops. The al-Qaida militants were expelled from Amiriya. Now Abdul Satar is keeping relatively normal business hours. He opens his shop at 9:00 a.m. and closes at 4:00 p.m. every day. He says he trusts the Iraqi army units that patrol Amiriya.
ABDUL SATAR: (Through translator) Of course I feel better around them now. They're really helpful.
TARABAY: Much of Amiriya's main shopping stretch is lined with six-foot-high concrete blast walls designed for protection against car bombs. The barriers irritate local residents, who say they affect business. But these days outdoor cafes are open next door to shops selling wedding dresses. One store has brand-new washing machines for sale. Business is returning to the community. Lieutenant Colonel Dale Kuehl walks alongside his Iraqi counterpart, Lieutenant Colonel Wael Hussein(ph).
DALE KUEHL: This is your town now, not mine. I'm here to tag along.
WAEL HUSSEIN: Unidentified Woman: You are the owner.
KUEHL: No, no, no. This is your town.
TARABAY: According to American officers here, the man he replaced in August did little to build relationships with either the locals or the district's volunteer force. By contrast, Colonel Wael has spent much of his time working to win the trust of Amiriya's residents. Being Sunni and having been targeted by extremists himself helps.
HUSSEIN: (Through translator) First and foremost I'm Iraqi. I know what it's like to live in a trouble spot. I have a house and a family; that's why I always talk to the people and see what their problems are.
TARABAY: Back at the army headquarter he shares with the U.S. military, Colonel Wael says the focus now, as in many neighborhoods rebuilding after years of sectarian bloodletting, is to provide essential services to the community.
HUSSEIN: (Through translator) The biggest part of our job now, the time for military action is over. Now we need to go to the citizens, get close to them, help them, visit them in their houses and schools. It's in our hands to do this now.
TARABAY: But Colonel Wael says the threat from outside the district still exists. There are groups that benefit from violence and don't want to see Amiriya at peace. And the 300 or so Amiriya volunteers have yet to be incorporated into the Iraqi police force. But Colonel Wael says that will happen in time.
HUSSEIN: Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.
YDSTIE: This MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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