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Iraqi Community Leaders Take Action Toward Peace

By Cpl. Michael Molinaro, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq, Aug. 24, 2006 – Seeking a unified province free from terrorism and sectarian violence, leaders of groups in Babil came together Aug. 20 in Hillah, Iraq, to reconcile and denounce sectarian violence.

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Tribal sheik leaders from the Babil province sign an oath in Hillah, Iraq, Aug. 20, declaring their pledge to work hand-in-hand with all sheiks and leaders from the province, regardless of religion or affiliation. The reconciliation conference was organized by Iraqi Maj. Gen. Qais Hamza, Babil provincial police chief, in an effort to unify the province and make a commitment to stop all sectarian violence and curb terrorism in the southern province. Photo by Cpl. Michael Molinaro, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Iraqi security forces leadership, representatives of the Iraqi national government, local government officials, social leaders, tribal sheik leaders and religious leaders joined together at the Iraqi police academy convention hall to map out a strategic plan to shape Babil’s peaceful future.

“This was Iraqi-generated, Iraqi-led,” said U.S. Army Col. John Tully, commander, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, an invited guest of the Iraqi leadership present at the conference. “They are clearly trying to come to grips with the issues their society is facing.”

Iraqi Maj. Gen. Qais Hamza, Babil provincial police chief, orchestrated the meeting to bring representatives of every facet of Babil culture to the conference and provide them a forum to speak. A sheik in attendance expressed the hope that the meeting would signify the start of a new era in the region and the end of terrorism in southern Iraq.

“We have Sunnis, Shiias, women, children – that is a miracle in this day and age,” he said. “Everybody knows what needs to be done, but General Qais is the person who decided that it was time to quit talking and start acting.”

The idea came in coordination with the 24-point national reconciliation plan Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki outlined to the Iraqi National Council of Representatives in June. Sectarian violence has plagued Iraq for much of the year, and leaders of Babil said they wanted to lead the rest of the nation in heeding Maliki’s words.

The meeting started off with children from the area singing the Iraqi national anthem and reading from the Quran. Many in attendance took turns speaking about the situation in Iraq and Babil and gave their suggestions on how to unify the region.

“There is no winner in war,” said Aeman Alkhafaji. “Everybody is a loser.”

Speaking on behalf of a women’s rights group, Alkhafaji said sectarian violence is destroying the greatest part of Iraqi culture: the family. When the man of the house dies, there is no one to provide for the family and no backbone present to steer the children to their future. Or when a woman is killed, it crushes the family dynamic and children lose the comforting, tender side of the family, she said.

“A woman without her man is like land without water,” she said. “And a man without his woman is like a ship without sail.”

Numerous Sunni and Shiia tribal leaders spoke before the congregation and offered their hand to one another, promising to not let the trouble witnessed in Baghdad infiltrate their region.

“We are not Sunni or Shiite, Kurdish or Christians,” one sheik said. “We are Iraqis, and we intend to secure Iraq. The people who are fighting the old regime and each other are the same people that have lived together for over a thousand years and have drank from these two rivers.”

After lunch, Qais proposed a reconciliation agreement draft he drew up. The agreement’s last paragraph reads: “We have sworn this oath; we accept the promise of the Provincial Government to provide security for all citizens without regard to their sect, ethnicity or political party affiliation and to work toward inclusive, representative government unencumbered by bias and disenfranchisement.”

Qais then challenged the more than 500 in attendance to sign the oath and make every effort to make Babil the place all of Iraq strives to be. A large reproduction of the oath each person received was placed near the door and everyone signed it as they exited the conference.

“Let Babil be the example for the freedom and the mixture that we have in Iraq,” said Col. Abbas, Hillah police chief.

Smiles were abundant as the participants left the conference, shook hands and offered kind words to each other.

“It was very uplifting,” said Tully. “In this society, when you get that many Sunni and Shiia sheiks to support a plan, there is a chance for success. If Babil can keep people like General Qais in leadership positions, it will be the most progressive and truly democratic province of the southern provinces in Iraq.”

(Army Cpl. Michael Molinaro is assigned to 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.)

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