By Maj. Randall Baucom; 1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div. PAONovember 15, 2007
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - Sheiks of all tribes, Iraqi Police, Iraqi Army leaders, representatives of the Iraqi government, as well as senior leaders from the 1st "Ironhorse" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division and Multi-National Division - Baghdad gathered at the Sheik Support Center near here to discuss bringing the region back to the government of Iraq during the Northwest Baghdad Regional Summit Nov 8.
This was the third installment of a series of reconciliation meetings that have taking place between the Sunni and Shia sheiks in the Taji area of northwest Baghdad in the last four months. This summit was the first time tribal and governmental leadership from Abu Ghraib, Taji, Tarmiyah, and the eastern portion of An Anbar province have met with senior leaders from the Baghdad provincial government, national government and the Iraqi Security Forces.
"This meeting establishes the conditions to begin the conversations [between the government, tribes, and people] that allow the population to get more services which enable them to move forward to solve their problems (without the direct influence of the Coalition)," said Col. Paul E. Funk II, commander, 1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div.
A key topic was the development of a sustainable security arrangement, which incorporates an integrated Iraqi-centric security approach that is linked to local government. The plan allows Coalition Forces to shift away from direct involvement in security to refocusing on the reconstruction efforts of Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team and training Iraqi Security Forces.
"We've provided security, now we have to focus on getting the basic services established so this area, and Iraq as a whole, can be self-sustained," said Lt. Col. Kevin MacWatters, commander, 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div.
A highlight was the move toward Iraqi-funded contracting of the Iraqi Security Volunteers and a move toward shifting their focus to civil service initiatives. With more than volunteers in the brigade's area, security in the region has significantly improved, with enemy attacks down almost 90 percent in some areas since the Ironhorse Brigade's arrival in December 2006.
With sustainable security returning to the region, attributed to the combined reconciliation efforts of the Sunii and Shia tribes, thousands of displaced Iraqis are beginning to return to their homes. As this trend continues, it becomes critical to transition the Iraqi Security Volunteer labor force into civil service initiatives that are linked to the local government.
Key to these initiatives is investment from the Iraqi ministries. The summit provided the opportunity for key Iraqi government, tribal and security leaders, capable of moving these initiatives forward, to meet for the first time.
"We've (Coalition, ISF, and ISVs) provided the security, stability and safety in this region and now it's time to reconnect the government to its people," Funk said.
"It is wonderful to finally see the Baghdad government visit the safe and secure province and see firsthand the potential that now exists through reconciliation and the ability to take the next step to political stability," said Northwest Baghdad's Embedded Provincial Reconstruction team leader, Tom Burke.