Anbar asks for help rebuilding, expanding

Associated Press
Published November 3, 2007

WASHINGTON - Declaring near-victory against al-Qaida, Sunni officials from Iraq's Anbar province laid out Friday what they want now from the United States: money to rebuild its battle-damaged cities, help expanding its police force by a third and private U.S. investment in its oil reserves.

"We united and that's why we obtained victory. So we are asking now that we compensate this province for all of the destruction it has faced," said Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha, whose older brother was assassinated after leading a revolt against al-Qaida terrorists.

The sheik was part of an eight-member delegation in Washington this week. The officials met separately with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, as well as several members of Congress.

Anbar has become the much-needed good news story on Iraq for the Bush administration. Prior to this year, the western Iraqi province was considered the hotbed of the Sunni insurgency and al-Qaida terrorist forces in the country. The province stabilized in recent months, after clans in the region allied against al-Qaida and the U.S. military increased troop levels there.

Officials said they were grateful for the U.S. help against al-Qaida but still needed help in enlarging their police force to 30,000 personnel and rebuilding infrastructure.

They also predicted al-Qaida was nearly defeated, scattered in small pockets throughout the province.

"The people that embraced al-Qaida at the beginning, these are the people who are rejecting al-Qaida now," said Maamoun Sami Rashid al-Alwani, governor of Anbar.

Marine Corps Brig. Gen. John Allen, who oversees forces in Anbar, told reporters Friday that propping up Anbar's security forces will probably take a couple more years.

The Sunnis also said they feared growing support among U.S. military experts and lawmakers that Iraq be divided into three regions - mostly along sectarian lines - with a weakened central government.

Sunnis have long lobbied for a strong central government that can equally distribute the nation's oil revenues and defend Iraq's borders; Iraq's largest petroleum deposits are found in the Kurdish north and Shiite south.

Al-Alwani said his primary concern was that a sectarian-divided Iraq would inspire meddling from Iran and other neighboring countries.

Allen said the earlier chaos in Anbar resulted in large part from the U.S. decision to disband the Iraqi army. The closure of state-run businesses also meant a sharp increase in unemployment, he said.

"Al-Qaida parachutes in on top of all of this to inflict their ... ideology on the tribes and left the tribal society in complete disarray as they fought the coalition forces," Allen said. "So, it was really the perfect storm."

The latest

- U.S. forces killed 10 insurgents Friday when a raid targeting an al-Qaida in Iraq network southeast of the capital turned into a shootout, the military said. Three U.S. airmen were killed Thursday during combat operations near the American air base at Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, the military also announced. The statement did not disclose how they were killed.

- Sectarian violence was unusually light around the country Friday. The Interior Ministry reported that the bodies of three unidentified homicide victims were recovered in the capital, fewer than the daily average in October, which was the lowest this year.

- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the U.S. envoy to Baghdad reminded diplomats on Friday of their duty to serve their country amid a staff revolt among some who are resisting forced assignments to Iraq. In separate comments, Rice and Ambassador Ryan Crocker said foreign service officers are obligated by their oath of office to work at any diplomatic mission worldwide, regardless of the risks involved or their personal feelings about the policies of any given administration.