Guns fall silent in Iraqi city

Security steps bring measure of calm as tribe leaders take on al-Qaeda in Iraq.

    Hiyt, which in the past four years has been the scene of anti-US attacks, air strikes and internal strife, has not had an effective police force since its security headquarters was blown up in December 2004.
    Recruitment drive
    When Iraqi police returned to the city on March 15, the first order of business was to impose a day-long curfew as they patrolled the streets.
    When calls went out for new recruits, several hundred young men registered at their neighbourhood precincts.
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    A Hiyt emergency battalion to combat al-Qaeda was also established and is currently training nearly 500 volunteers.
    Many of the volunteers who signed up for the new police force belong to the villages surrounding Hiyt, with a large portion belonging to the Majlis Inqaz Al Anbar (The Council for the Protection of Al Anbar), an organisation established by Abdul Satar Abu Risha, a tribal chief.
    The council is known to have engaged against al-Qaeda forces in recent weeks.
    Ahmed Mohamed, a Hiyt resident, said: "We said so early since April 2003 that we want police and army from the citizens of the city, we didn't want strangers from the south and US troops to control us or to move in side districts".
    Security measures
    Districts are no longer controlled by US troops but by Iraqi police, in some cases supported by Iraqi army units.
    Since their March 15 return, police commanders divided the city into several sectors separated by heavy barbed wire and large concrete walls.
    A police source told Al Jazeera that the security measures were to curb the movement of cars for a period of 30 days and to tighten control of the movement of peoples from one sector to the next.
    The new security steps seem to be paying off.
    By the end of March, police had arrested several men suspected of belonging to "extremist" groups.
    The improved security conditions allowed the establishment of the first local elections overseen by Iraqis in the city.
    On April 4, 21 members of local tribes were elected to a new municipal council.

    Suburbs in Hiyt are no longer controlled by
    US soldiers but by Iraqi police units

    The council is to manage the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the town, and it has announced that it would expedite the rebuilding of mobile phone services.
    A telecommunications tower built for such services was destroyed by armed groups in September 2005.
    The council has also seen to the reopening of schools for girls, which had been closed down by the al-Qaeda-led Islamic State of Iraq, the self-styled Islamist government set up by the group.
    Anbar University is also expected to reopen in the near future, the council told residents.
    Internet cafes, which have been targeted throughout most of Iraq, quickly took advantage of the new security environment and reopened.
    Enfranchising tribes
    But there is also a strong political movement at work in Hiyt.
    Hoping to dissuade young men from taking up arms or joining extremist groups, the police have instituted a series of steps to recruit evenly from each tribe in the city.
    Tribal elders and sheikhs are required to submit lists of men they volunteer for the new police force.
    Hiyt's new police force is also expected to be reinforced by 1000 new cadets who are currently undergoing training in Habbaniya, a former Iraqi air force base now administered by US forces.
    "No more military operations," said a man on his way to market.
    "Now people in the city have started to forget the sounds of mortars and explosions."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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