TARMIYAH, IRAQ: A “keystone moment” in the recent turnaround to a relative calm in Tarmiyah was the February release of local tribal leader Sheikh Sa’ed Jassim, held for 11 months in US detention.
US Army Captain Christopher Loftis helped make the decision to free Jassim, but only after Jassim’s son persuaded Loftis that his father would improve the relationship between Americans and Iraqis in this area 25 miles north of Baghdad.
Letting Jassim go home was a risk. It appears to have paid off.
Loftis’ unit, Alpha , 1st /14th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, arrived in Tarmiyah in December 2007. Jassim’s son Imad had stood up the local Sons of Iraq security group in October, but he told Loftis, unless his father was released, he didn’t think he could or would much longer lead the group. The Sons of Iraq are one of several such civilian town watches patrolling Iraqi communities against al Qaeda and other threats. For about $300 a month, paid but not armed by the US, these local Iraqis man small checkpoints across the city.
“Imad tried to strong-arm me,” Loftis recalled. “He was using a lot of ultimatum language. I pushed back, and there was a lot of back-and-forth.”
Although the unit that preceded Alpha Company also supported Jassim’s release, Loftis was initially unsure of Imad’s assessment of his father’s influence in the area, and how significant his release would be. He certainly was not eager to help release a man caught financing the local activities of al Qaeda in Iraq and detained by the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior in late 2006.
“He financed al Qaeda in Iraq,” Loftis said. “He took US money for civil contracts and some of that money went to al Qaeda in Iraq.” It can be seen in black-and-white, but in Iraq nothing ever is.
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Nathan also filed a report on July 3rd:
TARMIYAH, IRAQ: Sons of Iraq groups in Tarmiyah are succeeding “because they’re starting to assert themselves,” according to US Army Capt. Christopher Loftis, commander of Alpha , 1st , 14th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division.
Loftis’ unit has manned a Joint Security Station here in Tarmiyah since December, and they’ve seen how its complicated politics works.
Now, because of tips from the Sons of Iraq members, many weapons caches have been discovered and reported throughout the region. In some cases Sons of Iraq members, many of whom are former insurgents, probably revealed their own caches to gain credibility or reward money, US soldiers say, but weapons off the market are a small victory all the same.
Many other caches, however, were long-term storage sites hidden by committed al Qaeda in Iraq members. Several searches in February and March revealed hundreds of pounds of homemade explosives, US-made weapons, and at one locations, chemicals to help kidnapping. One cache contained a Dishka anti-aircraft weapon.
Tips from local Iraqis, made to their locally-grown Sons of Iraq – “Sahwa” - groups, have led to many of the most impressive caches.
The Sons of Iraq members “know who the bad guys are,” Loftis said. “I would say most of them don’t like coalition forces, but they’ll work with us because it accomplishes their end goals.”
...That is the heart of the reconciliation effort the US soldiers are in the middle of..
But, it’s not so easy. The long-term solution must be to bring the Sons of Iraq into the central government control, either as police or soldiers. That means Sunni areas like Tarmiyah must work with the Shiite government in Baghdad.
In the short term, that level of national reconciliation is “impossible,” said Sheikh Imad, through a translator. “I have tried to get my men hired as policemen. Since October (when the Sons of Iraq began here), not one man has been hired.”
He calls Loftis a “brother” and worries what will happen when Alpha Company is replaced early next year. He does not seem to regard the US-paid Sons of Iraq as a short-term transition, but as a long-term means to protect Sunni areas against Shiite persecution. He does not want the US presence or paychecks here to end anytime soon.
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