Thursday, September 06, 2007


Tribal leaders, U.S. and Iraqi officials meet in Al Anbar

(AFP) - Tribal leaders joined Iraqi and US officials on Thursday in talks focused on economic development of Anbar province, three days after US President George W. Bush dropped in to endorse peace initiatives in the restive region. US officials said the one-day Anbar Forum in the provincial capital Ramadi is aimed at giving an economic boost to the western province, where former Sunni insurgents have joined with US forces to fight Al-Qaeda.
Some 3,000 US and Iraqi troops were deployed to secure the governate in the centre of the city where the forum was being held, officials said. Among US officials attending are Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, a 2008 White House contender, who arrived in Iraq earlier in the day, US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, second in command of US forces in Iraq.
The delegation from Iraq's central government is headed by vice presidents Tareq al-Hashemi and Adel Abdel Mahdi and included deputy prime minister Barham Saleh. Members of the provincial government, including Governor Maamun Sami Rashid, were also among the two dozen or so officials at the meeting, as was Sheikh Sattar Abu Risha and 11 other tribal leaders from the so-called Anbar Awakening Conference.
The group, which comprises Sunni tribes who formed an alliance with American troops to claw back their neighbourhoods from Al-Qaeda's fighters, complains that it is not getting enough backing from Baghdad and that its volunteers are ill-equipped to take on the well-trained extremists. "All we are doing today is very important," Biden said in an address to the gathering.
"You have taken a bold decision in Anbar to fight the forces of destruction and terror ... Unity of Iraq is an Iraqi problem. America wants you to succeed and we will do whatever we can to enable you to succeed," he said. "Iraq's future is in your hands. Only you can determine the future. It's encouraging to see central government assisting you in Anbar. In America we are waiting to see how extensive that cooperation will be," Biden said. "If it is (extensive) you can count on America to stay, if it is not, we can say goodbye now."
Ambassador Crocker and US commander General David Petraeus believed that "if the kind of success we are now seeing (in Anbar) continues, it is possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces," Bush said. Ramadi had until recently been a symbol of the failure of the US military and the Iraqi government to assert their will among the fiercely-independent Sunni tribes living in the deserts west of Baghdad. But since the Anbar Awakening group was formed earlier this year, the tide has turned and a semblance of normality has returned to the streets and market places of Ramadi.

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