U.S. Hands Over Anbar Province At a ceremony in Ramadi Monday, the U.S. military handed over control of Anbar province to Iraqi government forces. The Sunni province west of Baghdad was an insurgent hotbed until late 2006 when tribal leaders formed an alliance with U.S. forces. Will Iraq's Shiite-dominated government allow these Sunni paramilitaries to continue operating?
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U.S. Hands Over Anbar Province

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U.S. Hands Over Anbar Province

U.S. Hands Over Anbar Province

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Today, at a ceremony in Ramadi, the U.S. military handed over responsibility several months later than planned. The original handoff set for June was postponed after a suicide bombing near Fallujah. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro was at the event today and she filed this report.

LOURDES GARCIA: Under the blazing Iraqi sun at a makeshift table in front of the Provincial Council Building in Ramadi, the American military formally handed over security control to the Iraqis.

GARCIA: It's done.

GARCIA: Thank you very much. Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

GARCIA: Today, Iraq security advisor Mowaffaq al-Rubaie touted the turnaround here.

BLOCK: If we have dreamt in our wildest dream, three or four years ago, of this, probably it would - people would laugh at us and ridicule us. Now I think it's a reality.

GARCIA: Police Chief General Tareq al A'sal recalled fighting insurgents on the very street today's agreement was signed. The local government and the U.S. military could not venture outside of fortified compounds without being attacked.

BLOCK: (Through translator) Anbar was completely controlled by al-Qaeda. There was killing in the streets in the cities and the countryside. Teachers were killed in front of the students, parents were killed in front of their sons. Anbar used to be an example of all the bad things. American and the Iraqi government had nothing to be proud of.

GARCIA: The tipping point came when the region's Sunni Arab community mounted a backlash against al-Qaeda in Iraq. It was led by Iraqi tribal leaders in the area who allied themselves with the Americans, who in turn paid the tribal militias to secure their neighborhoods. The Awakening Movement, as it's now known, is credited with almost singlehandedly changing the security environment in Anbar.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GARCIA: There was a clear sign of the unease between the groups. Despite his contribution to pacifying the province, the most prominent Awakening leader in Anbar, Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, had been left off the speakers list and was only hastily added at the end. He used his speech to angrily berate the central government for trying to arrest his men.

BLOCK: (Through translator) We have been surprised that the central government has made this arrest list without taking in consideration the heroic acts and sacrifices of our members who fought the extremists.

GARCIA: And Anbar faces other challenges. Sunni residents here complain the Shiite government has been slow in providing funds for reconstruction. There's also a lack of services and jobs. The commander of the 25,000-strong U.S. force in Anbar, Marine Major General John Kelly, ended his speech with this warning to the assembled guests.

BLOCK: What Anbar needs now is economic development, reconstruction, and funds for compensation. This can only come from the central government in Baghdad. There are two other things that are desperately needed, trust and friendship amongst you all. I pray God you can achieve this, as you will fail if you do not, and the agony we have endured together will have been for nothing.

GARCIA: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Ramadi.

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