President George Bush has reportedly reassured a visiting delegation from al-Anbar province that Iraq will not be divided up and that innocent prisoners will be released from US detention centers.
The Sunni leaders had some concern about the recently-passed non-binding Congressional resolution that called for a federalized Iraq roughly divided along sectarian lines with a Shia south, Kurdish north, and Sunni center.
VOI reports Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, the head of the Anbar Awakening, said President Bush promised on Wednesday that the United States would maintain the unity of Iraqi lands.
"I delivered a message from Anbar chieftains to President Bush during our meeting in Washington on Wednesday," Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha told VOI by phone.
"Tribal chiefs called on the U.S. president to help Iraq out of its current plight and confront attempts to divide the country," Abu Risha explained.
"We told the president that we, Sunnis and Shiites, are the sons of Iraq. Iraq is in no need of sectarian and ethnic divisions," Abu Risha said in response to a question about the main issues raised by the delegation.
Further, Abu Risha asked that detainees proven innocent be released from US custody, which the President assured him would happen "as soon as possible."
The Anbari sheikh said he also requested help expanding the province's police force, a request the delegation also made during a meeting with Pentagon officials on Wednesday.
AFP reports Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met for about half an hour with the eight member delegation, and promised to do what he could to be of help.
"The conversation focused on how to sustain the success that they have won thus far in Anbar, how to sustain it in Anbar and how to replicate it throughout the country," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.
Morrell reported the Anbar leaders want to expand the size of their police force to 30,000, and need US help to equip them.
"They wish to have a larger police force, and wish to be able to outfit their local police more effectively," he said.
Gates told them that the Pentagon has asked Congress for more money to expand the Iraqi security forces, including local police, Morrell said.
Gates said "he would take their request, and do what we could to be of help," the spokesman added.
The delegation of leaders from the Anbar Awakening Council is visiting DC as part of the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). They arrived on October 27 and will travel to Burlington, VT and Houston, TX as part of their ten-day stay.
In addition to Seikh Ahmed Abu Risha, the Anbari delegation includes the Mayor of Ramadi Lateef Avada, Vice Governor of Anbar Othman Hummadi, Govenor Mamoon S. Rashid Al-Alwani, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Rafe Al Essawi, Chair of the Iraq Awakening Council Ahmed Besia Ftekan Albrwisha, Chairman of the Al-Anbar Provincial Council Abdulsalam Mohammed, and Ashour Hamid Salih, a member of the Al-Anbar Provincial Council.