BRIEFING: U.S. troops try to heal Iraqi blood feuds

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LITTLE BARAWANA, IRAQ

The U.S. strategy under Gen. David H. Petraeus has bred a new type of American soldier in Iraq — a kinetic warrior who is also a diplomat, com- munity-relations worker, dispute mediator, social-service adviser and reconstruction facilitator.

In the Diyala River Valley village of Little Barawana, one of those soldiers recently surveyed his battlefield and then began to speak.

The days of “insurgents operating in Barawana are past,” Lt. Col. Rod Coffey said to a gathering of Sunni and Shi’ite sheiks and leaders. “[The terrorists] are now gone, but the people of both Barawanas suffered because of them.

“I ask you to help each other, not blame each other for the past.

“Together, we can make sure the terrorists are gone and stay away,” he said.

Col. Coffey is commander of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, which launched an offensive in early January against al Qaeda in the “breadbasket” area of the Diyala River Valley, about 70 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Two years ago, the region became a sanctuary for al Qaeda and its sometimes Sunni ally, Jaish Ansar al-Sunna.

Col. Coffey’s audience was 20 Shi’ite sheiks, mullahs and other officials from the village of Little Barawana and 20 of their Sunni counterparts from the neighboring village of Big Barawana, who sat on opposite sides of a concrete courtyard in a local school.

The two groups had convened to sign a peace treaty at the urging of Col. Coffey and officials in the provincial capital of Baqouba.

For two years, the neighboring villages of about 1,000 residents each had been at each other’s throats. All roads and footpaths between the villages were blockaded. Farmers with land exposed to the other side abandoned their properties.

Shooting across the 300 yards of open — but mined and booby-trapped ground separating the villages — was routine.

The feud started in 2006 when al Qaeda, whose members are nominally Sunni, blew up the Shi’ite Shrine of the Golden Mosque in the distant city of Samarra, sparking sectarian violence nationwide.

The Sunnis of Big Barawana, fearing attacks by Shi’ites, apparently considered al Qaeda fighters who were then moving into the area as protection from Shi’ite revenge.

The protectors soon became tyrants, a situation ended by the U.S.-Iraqi offensive named Operation Raider Harvest.

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