BAGHDAD – Crowds of Sunnis and Shi’as cheered in accord when selected representatives signed the Aamel Reconciliation Agreement at Baghdad’s Northwest Rashid Reconciliation Conference Dec. 10.
The agreement was a culmination of many events that have begun to foster trust between the rival ethnic groups in the area.
“This is a tremendous day for the citizens of Aamel; we are moving beyond the violence to bring service to our people,” said Sheik Mushin, leader of the largest tribe in Aamel. “We want to thank Capt. (Sean) Lyons and the ‘Black Lions’ for their assistance in this long process.”
Lyons, a graduate of the University of Iowa and a Burlington, Iowa, native, is commander of the unit responsible for security in the neighborhood.
When the ‘Black Lions’ assumed operational control of Northwest Rashid in March, Aamel was plagued by high levels of violence and ethnic strife.
Lyon’s unit, Company A, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div., helped calm the tensions through operations based at a Coalition outpost.
“Our company has played a central role in reducing violence in this area since March; the reconciliation signing will help, but we still have more work to do,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jamil Guiterrez, a rifle platoon sergeant and Kissimmee, Fla., native.
After observing the Jihad Reconciliation and process, Company A began an aggressive campaign to pull the community leaders in Aamel together and to reach out to Jaysh al Mahdi moderates.
A committee of five Sunni and five Shi’a leaders was formed to discuss the area’s problems, air grievances, request Coalition Force assistance, and find a workable solution to reducing violence.
The committee not only discussed problems, they also decided to create a project to foster reconciliation within Aamel.
The group focused on 7-Nissan Street, the former main street of Aamel which had become a war zone between Sunni and
Shi’a neighborhoods and was virtually abandoned by local citizens. The 7-Nissan Street Project included trash pickup, construction of three new National Police checkpoints and barrier removal, and encouraged business owners to return to their stores by providing financial assistance grants.
The committee also held a joint Sunni-Shi’a call to prayer at the Abu Bakr Al Saddiq Mosque, the site of numerous mortar and small-arms fire attacks. Finally, the committee organized a peaceful march of 1,500 Sunni and Shi’a citizens from Aamel.
A day prior to the conference, Lyons hosted all the Aamel leaders at the outpost for a mid-level leader signing ceremony. Approximately 130 leaders stepped forward to sign the document, departing the COP to announce to their neighborhoods the Aamel was embracing reconciliation.
“It was inspiring to see the overwhelming support of both Sunni and Shi’a in Aamel for the Reconciliation Agreement. We believe the Iraqi people are ready to work hard to achieve peace in their neighborhoods,” Lyons said.
The Aamel signing ceremony was the primary event at the Northwest Rashid Reconciliation Conference Dec. 10.
“The signing of the Aamel Reconciliation Agreement is critical to reducing violence,” said Dr. Safa, an Iraqi government leader for reconciliation. “Aamel was the center of violence in West Rashid. However, due to the cooperative efforts by Iraqis and Coalition Forces, Aamel has changed dramatically.”
At the conference, the 11-man Reconciliation Committee was awarded the Northwest Rashid heroic Service Medal for their inspirational service.
“Today was a great day which we will leverage to continue the positive march of reconciliation,” said Dr. Hamid Iziz, the Shi’a chairman of the Reconciliation Committee.
The Black Lion’s job is not finished; security remains their first priority and the work of providing essential services to the citizens must occur to achieve lasting success.