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Mideast edition, Saturday, July 7, 2007

Tribal leaders, city officials and U.S. and Iraqi military officials have met in Baqouba to cement the gains made during the recent sweep of the city.

According to the U.S. military, nine Baqouba tribal leaders and the city’s mayor met with the officials Wednesday at the city government center. Called the Baqouba Tribal Council, the local leaders are a linchpin in the American plan to keep area residents from backing insurgent groups.

“Today’s meeting was vital in the way ahead, as the tribal leaders are true representatives of their people,” said Col. David W. Sutherland, commander of the 1st Cavalary Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

“There is strength through unity, and as the people continue to grow tired of the hatred al-Qaida brings, the tribal leaders play a key role in that unity.”

On June 19, U.S. and Iraqi troops launched a sweeping offensive to clear the city of insurgents. Two weeks of house-to-house operations now have led to a situation where the military push needs to be backed up with government services, security and a return to daily life, military officials have said.

Baqouba residents had chafed at the imposition of strict Islamic law by insurgents, including the establishment of an Islamic court and a ban on cigarette sales.

As in other areas of Iraq, military officials said, the insurgents appeared to reach too far and turn significant portions of the local population against them — and, in turn, to help U.S. and Iraqi troops.

Now in Baqouba, troops are seeking to further that fragile alliance.

“The terrorists are continually trying to build a wedge between the people, the security forces and the government,” Sutherland said. “In order to prevent the terrorists from driving that wedge, strong working relationships between the government, the security forces and the tribes are necessary.”


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