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Reconciliation Offers Fresh Start in Iraq

By Army Sgt. Angie Johnston
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE BERNSTEIN, Iraq, April 6, 2009 – The Iraqi army, aided by U.S. soldiers, helped more than 30 people here in Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad, on March 30 to clear their names of criminal charges against them.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Pfc. Dennis Morey scans the retina of a man wanted by Iraqi security forces for past crimes at Forward Operating Base Bernstein, Iraq, March 31, 2009. The man turned himself in as part of a process that will clear his name and give him a fresh start, allowing him to get a job to support his family. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Angie Johnston

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division’s Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team assisted in what is known here as reconciliation. The process guarantees a wanted man will not be arrested unless he is guilty of murder. Under the program, sheiks and other local leaders convinced residents who have warrants out for their arrest to come here to reconcile their differences with the Iraqi government.

"This reconciliation is a great opportunity for those people who are wanted, but innocent. Some are wanted for real crimes, but some of these men never did anything wrong," said Sheik Sami Husayn Abdulla al-Bayati, the tribal leader for the town of Muftul.

Abdulla al-Bayati brought several members of his tribe here to reconcile. Prior to the event, he widely publicized the reconciliation by distributing flyers and passing the word to everyone he knows.

"My people are very happy and enthusiastic about this," he said. "They wanted to come here. All they have to do is give their name and have a photo taken and their name will be cleared."

U.S. soldiers assisted the Iraqi army with security and ran equipment to take biometric and fingerprint scans. They also scanned Iraqi identification cards and entered them into a database that the Iraqi army will keep for future use.

Army Spc. Charles Wagner entered identification documents alongside Iraqi soldiers.

"This just provides extra clarification of who they are and adds documentation to say they've come in and reconciled," Wagner said. "I can see that these guys are just trying to get on with their lives. What happened in the past, happened in the past."

Army Pfc. Rodney Hewitt and his Iraqi army counterparts administered retinal scans and took the fingerprints of each person who came through the reconciliation stations.

Once collected, the information was passed on to Iraqi security forces and the men were released to their tribal leaders. Sheik Shokr Murshed Toama al-Bayati, who leads the people of the al-Thahab village, said he has attended five reconciliation events in the past.

"We wish for this whole area to become peaceful again," the sheik said. "We don't want even one person left as 'wanted.' Then everyone can have a peaceful life in Iraq."

Toama al-Bayati was accompanied by a handful of wanted men from al-Thahab. Each of them reconciled with the Iraqi government and was released.

"This is like turning a new page for them; we've folded the old one over,” he said. “We've overcome 90 to 95 percent of our problems already. This makes things even better in Salahuddin.”

Some attendees of the reconciliation event were wanted for
lesser crimes, such as theft. Others insisted they were falsely accused of crimes they never committed.

"It's all about tribal and family troubles," Muthana Ahmed said. "I sat in jail for six months because no proof was required. All it took to send me to jail was someone saying I did something wrong."

The Army is working with the Iraqi government in Salahuddin to develop better forensics techniques and to teach their counterparts that physical evidence is an important part of gaining convictions in court. Tim Lorenzen, a law enforcement professional who works with the STB, has arranged for local police to attend specialized forensic training at Contingency Operating Base Speicher, near Tikrit.

During the training, Iraqi police will learn the importance of crime-scene photography, fingerprinting and accurate witness statements, as well as having the opportunity to train one-on-one with Lorenzen.

"People came to me to ask about this reconciliation," said Sheik Salih Jassem Mohammad from Dibbaj. "I brought a lot of people. They were all comfortable because they see that coalition forces are working with the Iraqi army. Everyone knows [the Iraqi army] can be trusted now."

(Army Sgt. Angie Johnston serves with the 25th Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)
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