Ramadan, for more than 1.5 billion people who follow Islam, is considered a sacred month. The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is said to be when the Prophet Muhammad received the revelations through the angel Gabriel. To show reverence, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset and are obliged to refrain from activities like smoking and other earthly pleasures.

When the sun sets, however, Iftar begins.

Military and civilian leaders from southern Iraq dined together several times over the course of Ramadan to celebrate Iftar, the breaking of the fast at sunset.

The Iftar celebrations brought partners from the Iraqi Security Forces, U.S. military, local politicians, and business met at Basra Air Field. Several of the dinners were prepared by the personal chef to Brig. Gen. Sami Sa'id 'abd-al-Nabi al-Tamimi, the Basra Air Field commander, with coordination from Alice Walpole, the British Consulate General.

The Iraqi officials that attended the dinners included the commanders of the Basra Operations Command, 14th Iraqi Army Division, and Basra Police.

Approximately 97 percent of Iraq's population is Muslim, and the holiday affords an opportunity for the people to come together despite any deep divisions within society, said retired Iraqi Army Staff Maj. Gen. Falah Hassan.

"Ramadan is a very good occasion to put Iraq into unity and to support the free-dom to celebrate it," he said

Mililani, Hawaii, native Lt. Col. Mark Olds, the planner for one of the Iftars on Basra, said the dinners were an opportunity for U.S. forces to show their unity with Iraq.

"We wanted to show our understanding and respect of Muslim traditions and practices by hosting an Iftar dinner for our Iraqi partners and friends during the Ramadan observance," Olds said. "It's a way to sustain the strength of the partnership and foster continued mutual respect for each other's traditions, customs and practices."

Maj. Gen. Vincent Brooks, commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division and USD-S, expressed his gratitude to those in attendance for coming before dining on the buffet of traditional Ramadan cuisine that included sheep, lamb and fish.

"We have invited you because you are friends of the United States Division-South and because of your importance on things you are doing for Basra and for Iraq," Brooks said. "We are very grateful that you accepted our invitation to join us tonight. God willing, this will be a time of fellowship and friendship tonight."

Olds noted that the dinners held a strategic significance by letting the Iraqi Security leaders and partners share tradition with the Americans in Basra.

"The camaraderie with our Iraqi guests is the most special part of the Iftar," Olds said. "It means walking out of the Iftar with a mutual respect for each other's cultures, customs and traditions and a lasting friendship."