CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq - When the sun went down, the evening was a time for celebration and the breaking of the Ramadan fast as tribal sheiks and local government leaders from the Abu Ghraib district of Baghdad dined together with senior leadership from the 1st "Ironhorse" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division and the brigade's 2nd "Lancer" Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment at the Joint Visitor Bureau building here Oct. 1.

The tribal leaders and government officials from areas throughout the Lancer area of operations to include the villages of Nassir Wa Salam, Khandari, Agar Quf and Zeljdot among others that lie within Abu Ghraib coordinated the celebration with the Lancers and used the occasion as an opportunity to recognize recent successes in reconciliation efforts.

"This event has been a great chance to celebrate Ramadan with local leaders in the area and our progress together over the past year," said Maj. Geoffrey Norman, executive officer, 2nd Bn., 5th Cav. Regt. and a native of Boulder, Colo. "We've got a pretty wide range of folks with a combination of Sunni and Shia partners and Iraqi Police here tonight."

Norman pointed out many of the positive things happening in the village of Nassir Wa Salam as just one example for the type of reconciliation successes occurring throughout the Lancer AO and that were celebrated during the event.

"We have a fantastic relationship in Nassir Wa Salam with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division," said Norman. "Our Iraqi Army partners in reconciliation have bravely stepped forward to work with Iraqi Security Volunteers and Coalition Forces to allow local people to regain control of their villages and neighborhoods from Al Qaeda in Iraq."

"The result has been a complete change in Nassir Wa Salam from being a town in the grip of Al Qaeda to a city flourishing for it's children and it's local businesses," added Norman. "The streets used to be deserted but now they're packed with people, and this is happening in Khandari and Shiha as well."

During the dinner, the gathered attendees ate American cuisine provided by the Lancers and five members of the 1st Cavalry Division Band were on hand to provide music for the occasion.

After they had dined, Sunni and Shia sheiks spoke with each other and the Ironhorse Brigade personnel about recent reconciliation efforts, shared a few laughs and posed for photos with one another.

Col. Paul E. Funk II, the Ironhorse Brigade commander and Lt. Col. Kurt Pinkerton, the Lancer Battalion commander, addressed the gathered crowd.

"This is an important night to share in the breaking of the (Ramadan) fast with our friends and it's a very historic time for Iraq," said Funk, during his opening statement. "Now is the time for reconciliation, for four years there were way too many opposing views and it is a time now for words and not bullets. The power of reconciliation leads this country forward."

"As you know 1,500 Iraqi Police were just hired and it's a chance to establish true security throughout this zone but it takes people working together," added Funk. "We see that you are all willing to reconcile. There's not one Kurd, one Sunni or one Shia-there's only one Iraq."

Funk also explained that the Iraqi people are quite capable of eventually being able to take responsibility for their own destiny-calling the nation a country of "scholars, mathematicians and brilliant engineers."

"There's a need to move forward, and soon the Ministry of Displaced Persons will start sending people back to their homes," Funk continued in his speech, referring to the thousands of Iraqis who thanks to reconciliation efforts to improve security are now moving back to their villages-places which were once marred by acts of violence almost daily. "It's time to start reconstruction and this takes patience, perseverance and people who have the courage of lions."

"Those people are sitting in this structure tonight," he added pointing to the assembled leaders.

"We can't do this alone, we all have to work together to make this successful," said Pinkerton, who added that his Soldiers have made strong bonds working with the local residents in Abu Ghraib as well as with their Iraqi Security Volunteer and Iraqi Security Force partners.

Since arriving in country nearly a year ago, the Lancer Soldiers have experienced a change in the security situation that has been like night and day thanks to reconciliation, according to Norman.

"It's really amazing, because they came into a very dangerous area and sustained some very painful personal losses, yet day in and day out they showed amazing discipline and respect for the people in whose hometowns and villages they were operating," said Norman. "Everyday and every night they were asked to make split decisions to discern friends and innocent villagers from armed insurgents who hide amongst the population we're here to protect.

"Now, we feel that we're in a very important juncture in our tour over here and it's as though we've turned a corner with the security situation which will give us the opportunity to finish strong and focus on essential services and rebuilding projects to leave an enduring mark on the Abu Ghraib area," said Norman while explaining that the battalion only has about four more months left in-country.

One of the ways forward that Norman said he sees for reconciliation involves reestablishing Iraqi Police into local communities which will may also include more Iraqi Security Volunteers becoming police officers.

"We'll bring Iraqi Police officers into the neighborhoods and villages that they're actually from," said Norman. "So, much of the way forward will include replacing the civilian (volunteers) with IPs and then continuing to improve local government agencies that can provide essential services to the people.

Reactions to reconciliation efforts have been very positive and have yielded many surprising results, added Norman.

"It's been an amazing experience, and everyone feels very positive about where things are going," he said. "The integration of both former Sunni and Shia insurgents who have reconciled and are cooperating with the Iraqi government and with us has really allowed us to shift our focus and work with Iraqis to complete many projects designed to rebuild functional local governments in a lot of areas where there was previously no government."

The improved security situation in Iraq has allowed the Lancers to assist the local government with providing power to people in some of the smaller villages in Abu Ghraib until the national power grid can be fully up and running in the future.

"We've worked with a lot of small villages to get small generators which are large enough to power houses in the village even though there may be no power grid to connect them," said Norman. "The ability to give each village power, has significantly improved the quality of life for many small villages."

Although the Lancers will be leaving Iraq within a few months, on-going combined efforts to bring "normalcy" back to the lives of Abu Ghraib residents will include such things as working to rebuild schools, water departments and support for the Iraqi government's efforts to reintegrate displaced people back into their villages, according to Norman.

"We're going out on high note with a lot of momentum with projects we've started-many of which we've seen through to completion," Norman said.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16