News: Neutral location established to advance reconciliation in Taji
Story by Sgt. Shejal Pulivarti
By Spc. Shejal Pulivarti
1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs
CAMP TAJI, Iraq – The Sheiks Conference Center's grand opening took place Oct. 18 near Taji, Iraq. Sheiks of all tribes, Iraqi police, Iraqi army, representatives of the Iraqi government, Iraqi security volunteers as well as 1st "Ironhorse" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division troops gathered at the center with a common goal – reconciliation.
"The gathering is immense," said Lt. Col. Kevin MacWatters, commander, 1st Squadron 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st BCT, 1st Cav. Div. "It's another step toward progress."
During the grand opening ceremony, the Sunni and Shia sheiks greeted each other, sat together, conversed and feasted collectively, many for the first time ever, symbolizing the unity in their desires.
"The location provides a headquarters for all tribes and security forces to work together for the people of Taji," said MacWatters, a Mustang, Okla., native.
Prior to acquiring this neutral location, the meetings were held at other various locations. The conference center is between both Sunni and Shia tribes' locales allowing a consistent place where everyone can be comfortable during reconciliation meetings.
The assembly consisted of key members speaking about their goals and recognition of the advancement the center represents.
"We have to continue to be optimistic and continue to work together," MacWatters told the assembled sheiks at the grand opening ceremony.
Prior to reconciliation efforts, the Ironhorse Brigade's main focus during their deployment was security; however, as a result of the recent unions, security has improved in the brigade's area of operations—mainly thanks to the joint efforts of the Iraqi people, local Iraqi government officials, tribal leaders, Ironhorse troops, Iraqi security volunteers and Iraqi security forces.
Reconciliation efforts will allow the Ironhorse Brigade to spend their last few months in country with a shift in focus from mainly a security role to being able to focus more on helping Iraqis with essential services, rebuilding and assisting local Iraqi governments.
The conference center, in essence, is a monument to all that has been accomplished and a preface to establishing a safe, stable and secure environment, MacWatters said.