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US Bets On Iraqi Tribes For Security

First the Iraqi's of Ramadi voted, now they are joining with the Coalition forces to combat the insurgency.
by Pamela Hess
UPI Pentagon Correspondent
Ramadi (UPI) Feb 12, 2007
In what may be a decisive shift in the war in western Iraq, 12 Sunni tribes in the province of Anbar have banded together to provide for their own security. But they are not freelancing, according to American commanders here: in the last six months they have contributed nearly 2,400 men to the police department and 1,600 to a newly organized tribal security force known as Emergency Response Units, or ERUs, which are being trained and equipped by U.S. forces.

The police are working within the city limits and the ERUs outside it, with each tribe securing their own neighborhoods from insurgent groups and al-Qaida in Iraq -- the terrorist organization once led by Jordanian Abu Musab al Zarqawi, but manned primarily by Iraq's disaffected Sunnis.

For nearly four years the tribes of Ramadi have been of necessity playing both sides of the fence, working with U.S. forces when it suited them and paying, helping or at least tolerating insurgents in their midst. But nothing is quite so neat here: While perpetrators of the violence, tribal leaders have also been victimized by terrorist and insurgent groups, with many sheiks and sub-sheiks assassinated or threatened into quiescence across Anbar.

That changed in August 2006, according to Army Col. Sean MacFarland, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, which has been responsible for security operations in Ramadi since June.

Al-Qaida in Iraq kidnapped and murdered Sheik Khalid of the Albu Ali Jassim tribe and left his body where it could not be found, preventing the family from burying him within 24 hours as prescribed by Muslim tradition.

"Al-Qaida overplayed its hand," MacFarland said.

He was alerted to a meeting of sheiks taking place Aug. 21. The sheiks had drawn up an 11 point declaration vowing to fight al-Qaida, within the rule of law, and declaring solidarity with coalition forces and supporting Iraqi security forces. It is a movement referred to by the tribes as "the Awakening."

"Khalid was killed when he was trying to get this going," MacFarland said at his headquarters, a dusty base on the west side of town.

Sheik Ahmed Abureeshah, 41, is the brother of Sheik Sitar, the driving force behind the Awakening initiative.

Al-Qaida "assassinated a lot of the sheiks. They killed my father. They killed three of my brothers. They killed 14 other shieks from different tribes," he said this week at the U.S. base in Fallujah, at a change of command ceremony. "They destroyed houses, killed a lot of (police). We were hopeful that we would see the army and police and political parties intervene and help us with the problem, but there was no answer. The insurgents had the upper hand in al Anbar."

"Then we met the sheiks of the tribe one after one and we decided that we must put our hand together and fight to defeat these criminals," Abureeshah said.

The tribes sent hundreds of young men to join the police station -- more than 1,000 in December and more than that in January, a record recruiting effort for the province. The men were assigned to stations in their own neighborhoods where they are responsible for their own tribes' neighborhoods.

As each Iraqi tribe in the Ramadi region got a police station with Iraqi army and U.S. forces for protection and to ease the coordination of their operations, more tribes jumped on board.

"The tribes began flipping, like a domino effect," Army Col. Sean MacFarland told UPI. "Almost every week we get another sheik knocking on our door."

First of two parts - Next: How the tribal police policy is working

Source: United Press International

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