U.S. hands over Anbar, Iraq's once-deadliest region
Anbar Province is where 1 of every 3 US fatalities in Iraq occurred.
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In 2005, Sheikh Fawzi Ftikhan fled to Syria after militants threatened his life for acting as a negotiator between American and Anbar officials. After hearing about security gains, he returned in 2007. But Sheikh Ftikhan is struggling to rebuild his contracting business after selling all his trucks to finance his flight out of Iraq. He spent his entire savings in Syria.Skip to next paragraph
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Starting over in Anbar
"I'm starting from the beginning," says Ftikhan. Security must continue to improve for his business to improve, he adds. He worries that "the police have been infiltrated by Al Qaeda, [and] if the Americans leave I can't guarantee that the situation will get better."
Ftikhan's concerns about the police represent what many Iraqis say is one of the biggest issues facing the Anbar Province after the handover.
"Many of the Al Qaeda operatives have just changed into a police uniform," says an Iraqi police colonel in Ramadi who has policed Iraq for 23 years. "Maybe they will go back to killing people if the situation changes."
Many of Anbar's police units were formed without thorough background checks, so a number of former criminals are now police officers, says the colonel. Additionally, some members of the Awakening Council were also incorporated into the police without screening and some high-ranking officers are illiterate or otherwise unqualified.
Resolving this issue is not as easy as just firing corrupt or unqualified officials, because many would simply return to their nefarious roots, says the colonel. New jobs must be created in order to prevent new problems from arising, he says.
Even if officials fix the problems within the police department, the legacy of the insurgency and the deprivations of the Saddam Hussein era will be felt for years.
"There's been a lot of social decay in the province," says William Rosenau, a counterinsurgency expert at RAND Corporation, a US think tank, who advised US Marines in the Anbar Province. "The social norms that kept people on track have eroded in a lot of ways and it's more legitimate now than it was in the past to engage in crime."
Before the US invasion, the province was struggling with a growing criminal culture. Loyal to Saddam Hussein, the Baathist region enjoyed a number of handouts from the former leader, creating what Mr. Rosenau describes as a "welfare state." But after the Iraq-Iran War (1980-88) consumed much of the government's money, the patronage programs began to shrink. Some residents turned to crime.
Now, says Rosenau, the remaining insurgents have grown accustomed to sustaining themselves through crime and many may have temporarily moved their political wings underground, while maintaining active criminal elements.
"Al Qaeda will not appear wearing masks in the streets again," says the Iraqi police colonel. "They will appear as policemen, politicians, and soldiers. They will create cells within these organizations and they will reappear after they handover."
The Shiite-dominated central government has expressed concerns about the US-funded Awakening movement becoming a separate military force. It is taking steps to incorporate some of the men into the federal security forces.