WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sunni leaders from Iraq’s Anbar province on Friday said they want billions of dollars as compensation for joining U.S. forces in the fight against al Qaeda militants.
Sheikh Ahmed Abureeshah, a local tribal leader, said Anbar needs some $2 billion to rebuild roads, communications networks and other infrastructure that were destroyed before tribal leaders sided with American troops to fight al Qaeda in Iraq militants.
Anbar province was once a stronghold for al Qaeda in Iraq and the site of some of the worst fighting during four years of war. But it is now relatively safe, thanks to cooperation between local residents and U.S. authorities.
“Al Qaeda followed your army to Iraq after they attacked you here in the United States,” Abureeshah said through an interpreter.
“The people of Anbar united with the American army and they started fighting al Qaeda together, and they have been successful,” he said. “So we are asking now that we compensate this province for all of the destruction they have faced.”
Pentagon spokesmen were not immediately available to comment on the request to compensate Anbar for cooperating with U.S. and Iraqi troops.
Abureeshah was part of an eight-member Anbar delegation that met this week with President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and members of Congress.
Anbar Gov. Maamoon Sami Rasheed said the province also would like American corporate investments to help revive its flagging economy. He said he was especially interested in U.S. oil company money for petroleum and natural gas reserves in the province’s southern Akaz region.
“It’s just sitting there, waiting for someone to make use of it,” he said.
Security remains a concern in Anbar, the delegation said, noting that local security forces were not ready to take over from U.S. troops. They said 21,000 police officers are in place but the province will need another 9,000 to maintain security.