Yesterday's Insurgents Are Today's Allies in Iraq
U.S. officials see Sunnis' shift as a sign of progress
FALLUJAH, IRAQ—In what has been a hotbed of the Sunni insurgency, Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi recently strolled through a market full of vegetables and along a main street once favored by snipers. Their high-visibility visit to this Sunni city, 40 miles west of Baghdad in Anbar province, was meant to showcase the partnership in recent months between Americans and Sunnis.
In a city once under militants' sway, U.S. marines now live alongside Sunni policemen in 10 new precinct stations. The city is still a wreck, though, strewn with rubble and ringed by concrete and barbed wire walls, and a vehicular ban to prevent car bombs is only slowly being lifted.
Still, Petraeus sees such local cooperation as foreshadowing national progress. Just last week, the Iraqi government awarded $120 million in reconstruction money to Anbar's provincial government and offered 7,000 government jobs—though not the expected increase in police jobs. Iraq's Shiite leaders are wary, but U.S. officials say they are missing the point. "You see local progress that produces improvements in local security and then leads to local leaders wanting to connect to the central government, because all resources here flow from the central government," Petraeus says.
Signing up. In Baghdad and nearby areas, thousands of Sunni men have signed up for U.S.-paid neighborhood guard duty. The U.S. commanders are lobbying the Iraqi government to allow these recruits into the police academy, arguing that the Shiite-dominated force is too small and not welcome in Sunni areas. Furthermore, they say, this course offers the best prospects that the Sunnis will not revert to armed opposition. Iraq's Shiite leaders aren't so sure and have been slow to respond.
On a recent sweltering day, Lt. Col. George Glaze took his division deputy commander, Brig. Gen. John Campbell, and the Iraqi general in charge of Baghdad security operations to lunch with a Sunni sheik who has brought forward 650 volunteers. At one checkpoint, Lt. Gen. Abboud Qanbar, a Shiite, was greeted and kissed by a former Army colleague, a Sunni purged after the U.S. invasion. Campbell could not have been happier: His goal was to win Qanbar's support for inducting the clan's volunteers into the police force.
Over a lunch of roasted goat piled on trays of rice, Sheik Thair al-Ghartan politely asked the two generals why Baghdad had not yet approved the hiring of the first 50 applicants he submitted. Campbell explained that the prime minister's office was now vetting the applications to bypass Interior Ministry officials implicated in abusing former regime members.
Ghartan, 30, has been running the clan's businesses and farms since his father fled to Jordan. His brother, seated next to him, was detained by U.S. forces earlier this year for suspected insurgent activity. "The Ghartanis have been here since the Ottoman Empire," Ghartan said with pride. The next day, Qanbar said he supported the hiring of more Sunnis for the security forces, and Iraqi soldiers are now allowed to work with the volunteer guards.