Iraqi City Leaders Gather for Peace; Resident Voices Hope
By Spc. Rodney Foliente, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
ISKANDARIYAH, Iraq, Apr. 13, 2006 In a room crowded with more than 150 religious, political and military leaders, speakers took turns voicing their hopes and their concerns for Iraq in this city 25 miles south of Baghdad April 8.
Local religious, political and military leaders, united against terrorism and instability in their district, attend the Civic Unity Conference held in the Huteen Establishment of Iskandariyah, Iraq, April 8. Photo by Spc. Rodney Foliente, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
Standing at the back of the room was Wala, a newlywed who works there as a janitor during the civic unity conference. He listened avidly to what the pillars of his community had to say; he had a vested interest, since he has lived in the area most of his young life.
Though he wasn't there to speak to the assembly, the local resident said he shares a great interest in the discussion. The conference involved the Iskandariyah district's key leaders and citizens who, regardless of tribe or religious affiliation, convened to speak freely and demonstrate that they are united in the face of terrorism and instability.
"The purpose of the council is to unite and stop the terrorists," said Wala, through a translator. "If we want stability and security, we must all take part." One after another, leaders spoke from the podium, broadcasting hope and determination.
"All the people of Iskandariyah are one family," said Sheik Ismael, through a translator. "There are no differences between Sunni and Shiite. "I am criticizing anyone who is trying to ignite sectarian violence. Do not give them a chance to disunite us!"
Speaking to the assembly, the U.S. military officer in charge of local security echoed Ismael's thoughts.
"Your willingness as leaders of a great and energetic people to come here and stop the sectarian violence and harness the full potential of a united people is a large step toward this country's future prosperity and an example to the rest of Iraq," said Lt. Col. James Howard, commander, 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
Howard said both leaders and citizens need "to rid this area of the men who shoot mortars that harm children and attack innocent men who wish only to provide for their families and worship in peace.
"We need the help of the people you lead, the people who will benefit from the security with jobs, roads, clinics and hope," Howard told the Iraqi leaders. "We must unite against the forces that would pull us apart and threaten us as individuals - because we are too strong when we are together."
Echoing that sentiment, Wala said, "I have hope for better opportunities for my new family."
A strong local and national government is the key for stability and a stronger economy, Walla said. But, he added, for that to happen, "the Iraqi people have to unite and fight for it."
Wala said he believes the Iraqi people as a whole are ready for a new and stable country, and he holds onto both hope and determination.
He is not alone, and his story is not unique. He said many choose to stay in Iraq and fight for freedom and stability, and the council meeting illustrates that point.
Although he has relatives in both Europe and the United States who would like him to leave the turmoil of Iraq and join them in a safer place, Wala said he will not leave his country.
"I stay because I love Iraq - Iraq is my country," he said.
(Army Spc. Rodney Foliente is assigned to the 4th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office.)