Influential Iraqi Sheik Praises Reconciliation Efforts
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Jan. 14, 2009 A senior Sunni sheik is encouraged by displaced people returning to their homes, and he wants the people of Iraq to know about it.
Multinational Division Baghdad leaders with the 1st Infantry Division’s 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team visited with Sheik Maqmoud al-Falahi at the offices outside the Um al-Qura Mosque on Jan. 11.
Army Lt. Col. Christopher Beckert, the brigade’s deputy commander, and Katherine Carroll, a Vanderbilt University professor serving with the brigade’s “human terrain team,” met with Falahi to talk about people who moved away from Baghdad's Hurriyah neighborhood eight months ago to escape sectarian violence and now are returning, and about releasing detainees from Iraqi jails as conditions in the area continue to improve.
Thousands of people have returned to Hurriyah and other neighborhoods in northwestern Baghdad since September.
"The American forces moved in strongly and exclusively to control Hurriyah, and I see a great future for the people there," the sheik said. "Hurriyah is very successful businesswise now, and it is now safe for more people to return."
As more people return to Hurriyah, additional commerce will continue to improve the local economy, he added.
"A lot of [displaced people] will be more than happy to return as the security gets better," he said. "Bringing these people back is key to solving some of Hurriyah's problems."
The leaders also assessed how the release of innocent detainees has improved the people's view of Iraqi and coalition forces.
"I want to give a message to the world that we are grateful for the Americans working with us to release the detainees," the sheik said. "They need to know that balance is being restored in the neighborhood."
Beckert agreed bringing Arabic media representatives to detainee-release events would be a good way to show the Iraqi people how Iraqi and coalition forces have come together to separate the criminal elements from innocent citizens.
"After talking with the Iraqi army, we think there will be many detainees released every week," he said. "We would like to focus the Arabic media on these events."
Beckert invited the sheik to attend a "media roundtable" with the brigade in the near future, proposing that he could be a key speaker and answer questions from Arabic media members.
"Democracy has been brought here, and the Iraqi security forces have been trained well," the sheik said after the meeting. "With better security and better services to the people, Hurriyah is getting better every day."