U.S. Forces Dealing With Different Enemy in Anbar
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
While terrorists and foreign fighters pose a continuing problem, most of those fighting coalition forces are Iraqi "rejectionists," Multinational Forces West officials said on background.
Officials characterize rejectionists as mostly Sunni Arabs who see the interim government in Baghdad as favoring Shiite and Kurdish interests. "There is a fear of Shiia dominance here," an official said. "There is also a fear of dominance by Iran." Roughly 60 percent of Iraq's population is Shiite. Twenty percent is Kurdish, and 20 percent Sunni Arab.
Sunnis boycotted January elections for a National Assembly to write the new national constitution. "While there were moves to increase Sunni representation in writing the constitution, most Sunnis believe their viewpoint was underrepresented," a U.S. embassy official said.
Yet, officials say, Sunnis recognized their mistake and will participate in Dec. 15 elections. Fallujah is a case in point. The city of more than 200,000 was a hotbed of insurgent activity in 2004. In December 2004, U.S. Marines and Army and Iraqi units went into the city and cleared terrorists out. In January 2005, only about 7,000 Fallujans voted in parliamentary elections. In the October 2005 constitutional referendum, more than 200,000 people in the greater Fallujah area voted, according to figures from the Independent Election Commission of Iraq. Officials expect that a greater number of Fallujans will vote Dec. 15.
In the provincial capital of Ramadi, the voting story is different, officials said. Before the October referendum, terrorists and Iraqi rejectionists intimidated the people of the city of about 500,000. Only about 4 percent of those eligible voted. Multinational Forces West officials believe they have improved the security situation in the city and that a far greater percentage of the population will vote Dec. 15.
Fear of domination by the Shiite majority has caused a two-track development in the province, officials said. Citizens are willing to participate in the election because they want their views heard and changes made. But they also still are willing to kill coalition troops, officials said.
One senior Multinational Force Iraq spokesman likened the situation to Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland: there are both militant and political wings of the Sunni camp.
Officials said it is important for any new government to produce results. Embassy officials said that most people in Iraq view the interim government as ineffective. Only the Iraqi security forces have a favorable rating and are respected, according to polls.
Traditional crime also complicates the security picture in Anbar. The border with Syria and Jordan was a construct after World War I. Family and tribal ties crisscross all borders in the region. Smuggling has been a way of life in the region for thousands of years, officials said.
Smugglers offer services to any who can pay. In addition to smuggling cigarettes, alcohol, electronics and porn, smugglers also bring in terrorists and the money suicide bombers need to carry out their missions.
Controlling the border with Syria has been tough. Officials said Syria has not done enough to stop the traffic across their border. Operations in the western Euphrates River Valley have disrupted smugglers' routes and stopped some of the flow of suicide bombers in to Iraq. But disrupting the smuggling routes means driving those involved more firmly into the ranks of Iraqi rejectionists.
"Nothing is easy or simple" in the region, a Multinational Forces West official said. Still, with all the challenges, it would be a mistake to "run out" on the Iraqis, the official said. "We need to hold our ground," he said. "It's worth doing."
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