A very interesting article about a Sunni Sheik from Ramadi who is trying to lead Iraq towards reconciliation:
But beneath the bluster is a compelling argument for an Iraqi identity that transcends sect and allows a man like Mr. Hais, a sheik from Iraq’s most ardently Sunni region, to join hands with parties led by some of the most dogmatic Shiite clergy.
“We’re actually working against sectarianism on the ground, not just through the beautiful words of our speeches,” he said. “The interests of our country require it.”
So far, his words and actions have prompted more outrage than reconsideration. Many in Anbar remain angry about a weeklong trip that Mr. Hais took in June to Iran, a country many Sunnis believe dominates the current government and poses a greater threat to Iraq’s interests than the United States. Since then, some neighbors have taken to calling Mr. Hais’s villa, along the Euphrates, “the Iranian house” or “Khomeini’s house.”
“Absolutely, he’s carrying out an Iranian agenda — without a doubt,” said Dhari al-Hadi, an adviser to Anbar’s governor and deputy of Ahmed Abu Risha, a leading tribal figure in the province. “You wouldn’t find anyone in Anbar who would dare go to Iran.”
MR. HAIS’S Shiite allies at times seem baffled by him, in an Iraqi version of culture shock. They respect his credentials in leading the fight against insurgents and feel confident he can win over enough of his tribe to capture a seat or two. But they are often taken aback by his freewheeling comments in the alliance’s meetings. At various times, he has promised to open bars in Ramadi, stop veiled women from entering Anbar University, break the legs of rival candidates and pursue Baathists in nightclubs in Syria.
“Crazy,” a Shiite colleague said on condition of anonymity, fearful of provoking him. “Then again, if you call someone crazy in Anbar, they consider it a compliment.”
For his part, Mr. Hais finds his new colleagues too reticent.
“They’re always calculating before they say a single word,” he complained.
Lately, though, Mr. Hais seems just as bewildered by his fellow Sunnis.
On a crisp winter day this week, he made his way to the Nineveh Elementary School for Girls in a hardscrabble neighborhood of Ramadi. Teachers there unleashed a torrent of complaints: trash-strewn streets, a lack of money for schools, and drinking water that mixed with sewage and, at times, blood running off from butcher shops.
Mr. Hais listened, slipped the principal an envelope with $1,000, then urged the teachers to organize demonstrations. “It’s up to you to change the reality,” he insisted.
Before long, a former army officer spoke up. “I want to speak frankly,” he said. “We hoped you wouldn’t abandon your province and join the alliance.” Others nodded. “We don’t want Shiites coming into Ramadi,” a woman shouted. “We don’t want Shiite places of worship here.”
More criticism ensued. “We need someone like Saddam Hussein,” a woman cried.
“Someone who will get you into a war and make you all widows?” Mr. Hais asked, with a grimace that suggested he might want his money back.
“At least we’re fighting Iranians and defending our country,” she answered.
An hour later, the meeting ended uneasily. “They’re worn out,” Mr. Hais said, in explanation. But the anger seemed to run deeper, be more intractable.
“He’s a son of Ramadi,” one of the teachers said. “We respect him in that way.”
“But,” she added, “he’s made a mistake.”
With attitudes like that of the woman who said they need someone like Saddam, reconciliation will be difficult to achieve. But with more Iraqi politicians like Mr. Hais, who answered the woman correctly, maybe there is hope for Iraq.