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Al Anbar Governor visits regional sheikhs, promises new projects

3 Jul 2006 | Cpl. Antonio Rosas

Restoration of an electric power grid and construction of a hospital for residents of this city of about 50,000 are top priorities for the government of Iraq’s Al Anbar Province, the Province’s governor recently stated.

Governor Maamoon Sami Rasheed al-Awani met with local tribal sheikhs and city government leaders at an outpost in the city, where Marines from the California-based 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment provide security and train Iraqi Security Forces in this.

Awani, a former civil engineer who now governs arguably the most dangerous of Iraq’s 18 provinces, flew in by helicopter and was provided top security by Iraqi Security Forces and Marines during his visit. Awani has been the target of about 30 assassination attempts since he became governor June 1, 2005.

“The security in this region has changed for the better,” said Awani through an interpreter. “Without the work the Iraqi Army and Iraqi police are doing here, we would not be able to move forward with construction projects.”

The governor’s visit to this region near the Iraqi-Syrian border came just days after more than 300 local Iraqis lined up at one of the Marines' outposts in hopes of becoming policemen in one of Iraq’s newest police districts in the city of Karabilah.

The enlistment drive marked the largest turnout of police recruits in recent months. A total of 108 Iraqis were accepted for enlistment. 

Lt. Col. Nicholas F. Marano, the Marines' battalion commander here, escorted the governor to a regular monthly meeting with tribal sheikhs.

“The visit helped increase the credibility of the provincial government by demonstrating to the people here that the governor is concerned about the problems and issues in the Al Qa’im region,” said Marano. “It also gave the leaders of this region an opportunity to present those issues and problems to the governor.”

Tribal sheikhs expressed gratitude over the increased security of Iraqi police officers who began conducting security patrols alongside Marines and Iraqi Army soldiers last month. The sheikhs were mainly concerned with restoration to damaged structures left behind from the heavy fighting between Marines and insurgents during the past several years.

Two major operations by the Marines against insurgents last year left numerous houses in a pile of rubble. Residents have slowly begun the cleanup process.

Awani, who maintains his government offices in Ramadi – a city about 70 miles west of Baghdad – is in charge of the largest province in Iraq, a region that extends from just west of Baghdad to the northwestern border of the country near Syria.

During the meeting, sheikhs expressed concerns of an apparent lack of fuel for locals’ use in their homes.

The mayor of Husaybah, a city of 50,000 along the border, said many families in his city are still without liquid propane – a necessity for cooking and heating.

Awani promised the sheikhs that a solution was probable in the next several weeks. He said he needs government officials to conduct a study to find out the specific fuel capacity for the area to accommodate a fueling station and a liquid propane station.

Infiltration of insurgents into Iraqi Security Forces is also a concern of the twenty-plus tribal sheikhs who attended the meeting.

Last month, a policeman in Husaybah detonated a bomb-laden vest, killing four other policemen and wounding five others.

Awani acknowledged that insurgents are finding new ways to slow progress of Iraqi Security Forces, but also recognized the hard work the Iraqi Army and Police have completed thus far.

“I offer my condolences to innocents who died here but I admire the brave people who join the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police because those people left behind their fears and other issues to join these organizations,” said Awani.

Although the sheikhs feel the security situation in the area is stable, several of them expressed concern over a lack of money available for Al Anbar Province.

"The governor has only made promises about fixing things but we need to see for ourselves," said the mayor of Karabilah, a city of about 30,000.

Other sheikhs sympathized with the mayor of Karabilah, echoing his sentiments by stating they need to see the provincial government come through with funding for a renovated hospital before believing the governor’s promises.

Nonetheless, the sheikhs expressed pride that their families could now be safe under the improved security and that their cities were ready to move forward with reconstruction efforts.

“The governor left Al Qa’im with a firm understanding that the security situation here is good, thanks to a partnership between Marines, the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police,” said Marano.

Email Cpl. Rosas at rosasa@gcemng-wiraq.usmc.mil