Who would’ve thought that Al Anbar − Iraq’s largest province and its most famous cities being Ramadi and Fallujah − would be handed back to the Iraqis since it was one of Iraq’s most dangerous regions, which led to the country losing control of the province almost two years ago. It is also where over a quarter of all American soldiers [killed in Iraq] have died.
Al Anbar was hellish not only for the Americans but also for the innocent people of the province. It is the most prominent Sunni Arab province that previously served as a stronghold for Al Qaeda and extremist organizations and went on to establish the Sahwa Awakening Councils by the Sunni provincial leaders who took up arms against Al Qaeda’s terrorism and drove it out of western Iraq.
This great deed pushed Major General John Kelly, Commander of the US Forces in Al Anbar to stand in front of American and Iraqi officials during the handover ceremony and say, “We are in the last ten yards of this terrible fight.”
The general’s words were optimistic; however they must be supported in order to be realized and this is what Abdul Salam al Aani, head of Anbar Provincial Council concluded. He said, “It is a security situation that deserves to reap the fruits of its sacrifices as it has given martyrs, and it is now open to receive its displaced sons whether Muslims or Christians or of other nationalities.”
He mentioned that “Al Qaeda committed the majority of massacres in this province; they are criminals and murderers who have been discredited socially and politically and their theory is death rather than life.” He also warned against “plans that aim to push Al Anbar to be a place for political or sectarian conflict but we will not allow that.”
Therefore, there must be a project to reconstruct Al Anbar and to revive its economy in order to provide jobs for its people who have long suffered. Major General John Kelly stated that the anticipated budget is close to US $450 million, “We’ve articulated that,” he said. “If the central government fund it − and they certainly have the funds − agriculture and jobs will take off…these people will be too grateful to do anything other than salute with pride their country,” stated Kelly.
General Kelly explained the reality of life in Al Anbar by saying that at one point in time agriculture provided 60 percent of jobs and that small-scale industries in the city of Fallujah, which was devastated by two American military attacks in 2004, provided three-quarters of people with jobs. He stressed that both places were in need of revival.
And that’s not all of course; there must be the attempt to accomplish real reconciliation and facilitate the incorporation of the people of Al Anbar into Iraqi political activity, especially that it is the first Sunni province to be handed back to Iraqi forces.
There would be no reason for any conflict or tug of war if the people of Al Anbar themselves have the attention of the central government and feel the importance of the political process in which everybody plays a part according to set conditions, and which has no need for weapons or sectarianism.
This is what should be given attention in the process of incorporating the people of the Sahwa Awakening Councils who raised their weapons against Al Qaeda, which committed crimes against all Iraqis. Therefore Al Anbar must be incorporated into the Iraqi system through a mentality of reconciliation and not a mentality of spite and sectarian apportionment.