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Unit Conducting Security Mission Keeps Local Sheikh Informed

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 19, 2006 – In this war on terror, a house call may be more important than a combat fire mission.

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Sheikh Majoob (center, in the golden robe) listens as Army Capt. Juan Santiago makes a point during a meeting near Taji, Iraq. Photo by Jim Garamone
  

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That's why Army Capt. Juan Santiago, commander of Aztec Battery, 4th Battalion, 42nd Field Artillery, was going to visit Sheikh Majoob.

The sheikh is the leader of what Americans would call a tribe. The tribes are an extension of the family for both Sunni and Shiia Arabs, and are the center of their loyalty.

The sheikhs are unelected leaders of these tribes. They are the tribal elders who often decide issues within the tribe or act as advocates for the tribe when dealing outside the family group.

The tribes can be huge and often contain all elements of Iraqi society. Even a predominantly Sunni or Shiia tribe has members of the other sect. Some tribes are affiliated with outside groups, and some tribes have set up their own militias.

The sheikh has influence throughout the tribe in the area. Santiago's unit has responsibility for security in Sheikh Majoob's area. Saddam Hussein favored the mostly Sunni tribe and gave it land along the Tigris River. Insurgents have been a problem in the area and, in fact, the coalition had to suspend rebuilding projects in the area because of security concerns.

Santiago brought with him representatives of the 2nd Brigade of the Iraqi Army's 9th Division, Maj. Ahmad and 1st Lt. Farazdek, to meet the sheikh and tell him about their unit. That unit soon will have security responsibility for Sheikh Majoob's area.

The captain also brought U.S. Army Capt. Holly Hanson, a civil affairs team leader for the area. She was the only woman at the meeting. Army Capt. Andy Whitford, the commander of C Troop, 7th Squadron, 10th Cavalry, also joined the group. Whitford commands the unit directly south of Sheikh Majoob's area, and the sheikh in that region reportedly does not get along with Majoob.

Getting prepared to go to the sheikh's house is a project in itself. Soldiers put on "full battle rattle" and charge their weapons as they leave Camp Taji. Improvised explosive devices have been a problem in the past along the route to the sheikh's house, but today there is no problem.

The soldiers arrive at the home, and Majoob's relatives escort the guests into the main room. Sofas and comfortable chairs line the walls of the room. Carpets cover every square inch of the floor.

After the greetings there is food. Assistants bring tables into the center of the room and platters of food. Majoob lays out a spread of lamb, chicken, bread and rice for his guests and everyone eats standing up.

After the food comes the talk. Ahmad speaks of his experience in the old Iraqi army and what his unit - the 2nd Tank Battalion - will do when it takes over the area.

Majoob speaks of a member of his tribe who allegedly has been kidnapped by the tribe to the south. Santiago and Whitford share notes and begin to make plans.

While all this is going on, young men bring chai out to all gathered in the room. Chai is tea served in small glasses. It is laced with brown sugar - lots of it - and it is the real lubricant of life in Iraq.

The discussion becomes heated. One man complains about the new Iraqi government and says he doesn't want the country's newly elected leaders -- he wants U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to be the president of Iraq.

Santiago and Whitford speak of the sheikh to the south and promise to look into the kidnapping. They also discuss a burned-out transformer. The Ministry of Electricity won't come out to fix it unless someone from the coalition signs off that it is indeed broken. Hanson says she will look into it.

The language - even through a translator - is florid, and the men wave their hands and hit the armrests of the chairs when they make their points. The manager of the local gas station comes in to receive permission to put guards on his facility. The sheikh looks to Santiago.

"Tell him yes, but they cannot carry their AK-47s openly," Santiago says. The man thanks the sheikh and bows out of the room.

Santiago speaks of the security changes that are coming as a result of the 2nd Iraqi Brigade assuming the battle space. He speaks of a date-palm aerial spraying program. All of this reinforces the message that the new government is responsible for these changes and will provide security for the tribe.

Three and a half hours later, the meeting ends. The soldiers go back to their armored Humvees, check out the transformer and then head back to Taji.

At the base, Ahmad and Santiago brief the 2nd Brigade's intelligence chief on the meeting. Col. Jassim and his American adviser, Army Maj. Robert Koehler, talk over the developments and tell Santiago they will consult with him on the way forward.

"In the states, we would handle all this with an e-mail or a telephone call," Santiago said later. "But that is not the way things are handled here. The saying back home is 'All politics is local.' Here, it is 'All politics is personal.' You have to respect that part of the culture."

And the Iraqis understand that Santiago does understand. During the meeting, Sheikh Majoob said, "I respect the captain, because he respects us."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Capt. Juan Santiago (right), commander of Aztec Battery, 4th Battalion, 42nd Field Artillery, talks with Iraqi officers and their transition team adviser at Camp Taji, Iraq. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageCol. Jassim, intelligence officer for the Iraqi's 2nd Brigade, 9th Division, listens as Capt. Juan Santiago (left), an interpreter and Army Maj. Robert Koehler report on their visit to a local sheikh near Taji, Iraq. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Capt. Juan Santiago speaks with Sheikh Mohammad, Sheikh Majoob's son, during a visit with the sheikh to discuss security issues in the region near Taji, Iraq. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageChai, tea served in small glasses, is the social lubricant at Iraqi homes. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageIraqi Col. Jassim (right) and Army Maj. Robert Koehler talk following a meeting with Sheikh Majoob near Taji, Iraq. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Capt. Holly Hanson, a civil affairs team chief, takes a picture of a damaged transformer following meetings with Sheikh Majoob near Taji, Iraq. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Capt. Juan Santiago speaks to Sheikh Majoob through an interpreter during a meeting at the sheikh's house near Taji, Iraq. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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