Peace comes to a deadly Iraqi city

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“We do not only offer training, but we also contribute to security because some of the students who enrolled here would have otherwise planted roadside bombs or joined militias,” said the school’s director, Naseer Abdul-Jabar.

In preparation for their departure, the American officers are trying to get people to take their problems to the municipal council and provincial government. And with less money for business grants and salaries for private security forces, they’re urging the Iraqis to find other sources of cash.

“My goal is that there will be no more need for coalition forces here when I and my unit leave,” Capt. Penney told community leaders in July.

Capt. Penney, a native of Jacksboro, Texas, met Sheik Zaher al-Shafaie soon after arriving in Iskandariyah. Sheik al-Shafaie has an English degree from Baghdad University and an extensive vocabulary of American profanities. The Shi’ite sheik’s family sided with the Americans early in the war, inviting danger.

The two men act friendly, but their relationship seems based mostly on mutual need.

Capt. Penney sought Sheik al-Shafaie’s help to secure Iskandariyah and help reconcile Shi’ite and Sunni clans. Sheik al-Shafaie wanted some reward to bolster his standing in his clan — money for a showcase project or a bigger contract to supply the Americans with armed security men.

“We have been friends with the coalition forces from the very beginning, but we got nothing in return,” Sheik al-Shafaie told Capt. Penney during one conversation in May.

“Al-Shafaie always wants to make you feel that you owe him,” Capt. Penney said later.

Capt. Penney brought together Sheik al-Shafaie and Sunni sheiks with whom he has a long-running blood feud to explore whether they could jointly set up a farmers’ cooperative.

“Sheik Zaher,” Capt. Penney told the sheik during the May meeting, “you always give me so many suggestions. I want to make just one suggestion to you: Complete the reconciliation.”

But Sheik al-Shafaie says he’s survived two assassination attempts by Sunni militants and claims the rival sheiks facilitated the murder of two of his brothers and nine cousins. He demanded that the Sunni suspects be brought to justice. The Sunnis replied that they would try to find the suspects and hand them over to police if Sheik al-Shafaie could identify them.

Sheik al-Shafaie was not convinced. He sent a younger brother in his place to further meetings on the cooperative, which was finally set up in late summer but has done little to foster reconciliation.

“It’s a start,” Capt. Penney said. “I think it is more of a power struggle than an issue of reconciliation.”

One night, as he sat in his cramped quarters before a picture of his two young boys, Michael Ezekiel and Samuel Christian, Capt. Penney mused on his family and his mission in this dusty corner of Iraq.

“Personally, I feel good about what we have accomplished here,” he said.

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