AR RAMADI, Iraq --
In a beautiful compound here in the capital of Al-Anbar Province, sheikhs from several Anbari tribes, generals from the Iraqi Army and Police and the senior adviser of the 1st Iraqi Army Division Military Transition Team gathered for a meeting with the head of Sahwah Al-Iraq (or "Awakening Council").
The meeting was to discuss developments in Al-Anbar’s security as control of urban areas increasingly becomes the responsibility of the Iraqi Police, and the Iraqi Army assumes a greater role in operations in the surrounding regions.
SAI security forces have been touted by many as a major contributor to improvements in peace and stability throughout Iraq, but particularly in Al-Anbar where the organization was founded.
Iraqi men join SAI affiliated "Awakening Councils" to rid their communities of terrorists through their knowledge of their hometowns and even armed support of the Iraqi soldiers and police and Coalition Forces. They provide intelligence and support that has a resounding effect in discovering arms caches and improvised explosive devices, as well as capturing or killing insurgents.
But their leader believes it is time for his men to become a more official branch for the Iraqi government, while he tries to propel his organization into the political realm. Accordingly, SAI will cease to function as a security force and will become a political entity instead, Sheikh Ahmed Albu Risha said.
Security in Al-Anbar will now solely be the responsibility of the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police in partnership with Multi National Force-West. Albu Risha also demonstrated a willingness to urge members of SAI to join the Iraqi Army and Police.
SAI’s willingness to work within the constitutionally established security structure came as welcome news to many at the meeting.
"He officially announced for the first time to many of the Iraqi Army and Police that his units will be laying down their arms," said Maj. Brandon C. Gregoire, the 1st IA Div. MiTT tribal engagement adviser, from New Orleans. "This meeting was also a way for the security forces to lay the groundwork for coordination when that time comes."
"They're supported by the tribal leaders, they look out for the people, and now they're looking for political recognition," Gregoire said of SAI. "And they have a lot of support, in Al-Anbar and in Iraq.”
Many of the SAI leaders are sheikhs from around Al-Anbar Province; prominent community figures in their tribes and cities. Because the sheikhs and SAI hold so much influence in Al-Anbar, developing positive relationships between the tribes and the 1st IA Div is an important aspect in ensuring security and stability throughout the province. By building on these relationships, the division can work with the tribes to indentify insurgents or find IEDs, and also increase the understanding of how the 1st IA Div is working hard to protect all the people of Al-Anbar.
Meetings like this also give the tribes an opportunity to address concerns and issues with the Iraqi Army. The open two-way communication builds bonds that will strengthen over time as each side commits themselves to preserving the hard won peace in Al-Anbar.
"Many of the people in these different tribes used to be military officers, businessmen and the elites of Al-Anbar," said Gregoire. "Now through politics, they are trying to re-gain a voice so that they can represent the people of Anbar."