U.S. military officers and local sheiks say an area north and west of Baghdad is turning away from the al-Qaida terror group and offering more support to the Iraqi government. The change follows a series of brutal acts by insurgents that angered many local people. As VOA's Jim Randle reports, the change follows a pattern seen in Anbar province, where people who once supported, or at least tolerated, al-Qaida became enraged by the group's deadly excesses.
In the Taji area, al-Qaida blew up schools, and a hospital,. A bridge that carries traffic across a large canal got blown up twice.
Tribal leader Sheik Nadeem Hatem Al-Sultan Al-Temimi decided al-Qaida and its foreign fighters had gone too far when they set off a car bomb with horrifying results.
"They sent it to the supermarket or the Iraqi street, and when [local people] saw the kids who got killed or the women who got killed or the old men who got killed, a lot of people, they wake up and they see what al-Qaida do in Iraq," he said.
The sheik and other local leaders say tribes in the Taji area, both Sunni and Shi'ite, are cooperating with the Iraqi government and U.S. forces, offering information and support.
Hundreds of men from various Iraqi tribes have volunteered to join neighborhood watch groups, man checkpoints and look out for strangers.
Iraqi Police Colonel Sabah Wahid says the new attitude and the wave of volunteers have cut violence in the area significantly. "A year ago, we were in a bad situation. We had a lot of militias and sectarian friction between Sunni and Shi'ite," he said.
U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Pete Andrysiak says winning support from tribes has cut violence and made it possible to make progress toward restarting the economy. Colonel Andrysiak's First Brigade of the First Cavalry Division operates in the Taji area. "People were opening up their business, the markets were opening back up, people were looking for other opportunities to work. Contractors were not as afraid to come to work anymore," he said.
The improved security situation allowed work to resume on a generating plant needed to bolster Iraq's black-out prone electric supply.
Chief Engineer Muhammad Muhamedin says terrorist threats against the plant's staff and an attack on his predecessor caused major delays. "Thanks be to God, the project has recovered after 10 months of suspension because of the security situation," he said. "The previous project manager was assassinated here in the plant."
The plant is now moving closer to completion.
But the area is still a long way from recovery. A furniture factory could employ 1,000, but erratic electric power and security worries mean it operates at a tiny fraction of capacity. Government officials have paid to improve the facility and hope it will again be a significant source of jobs.
U.S. troops are working with civilian experts and local officials to improve the delivery of basic services. The Americans say a robust local government could become a good source of municipal jobs.
The Americans and many other see good jobs as a key step toward a stable future here in Iraq.