updated 11/2/2007 9:09:52 PM ET 2007-11-03T01:09:52

Declaring near-victory against al-Qaida, Sunni officials from Iraq’s Anbar province laid out Friday what they want now from the United States: money to rebuild its battle-damaged cities, help expanding its police force by a third and private U.S. investment in its oil reserves.

“We united and that’s why we obtained victory. So we are asking now that we compensate this province for all of the destruction it has faced,” said Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha, whose older brother was assassinated after leading a revolt against al-Qaida terrorists.

The sheik was part of an eight-member delegation in Washington this week. The officials met separately with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and several members of Congress.

Anbar has become the much-needed good news story on Iraq for the Bush administration. Prior to this year, the western Iraqi province was considered the hotbed of the Sunni insurgency and al-Qaida terrorist forces in the country. The province stabilized in recent months, after clans in the region allied against al-Qaida and the U.S. military increased troop levels there.

Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, who led the revolt, was assassinated just 10 days after meeting with President Bush last September; during the brief visit to al-Asad Air Base, Bush hailed Abu Risha’s courage. His movement, also known as the Anbar Awakening, included dozens of tribes or sub-tribes from Anbar, many of whom initially helped al-Qaida target U.S. forces.

Huddled around a small table at the Washington Plaza on Friday, four members of the delegation — Sheik Abu Risha; Abdulsalam Mohammed, chairman of the Anbar Provincial Council; Maamoun Sami Rashid al-Alwani, governor of Anbar; and Latif Eyada, the mayor of Ramadi — said they came to the U.S. to seek continued support.

Speaking to reporters through a translator, the officials said they were grateful for the U.S. help against al-Qaida but still needed help to expand their police force to 30,000 personnel and rebuild its infrastructure.

They also said al-Qaida was nearly defeated, scattered in small pockets throughout the province.

“The people that embraced al-Qaida at the beginning, these are the people who are rejecting al-Qaida now,” said al-Alwani.

U.S.: Helping Anbar 'a measure of years'
Marine Corps Brig. Gen. John Allen, who oversees forces in Anbar, told reporters Friday that propping up Anbar’s security forces will probably take a couple more years.

“It’s a measure of years, not a measure of months” when U.S. troops will leave, he said.

The Sunnis also said they feared growing support among U.S. military experts and lawmakers that Iraq be divided into three regions — mostly along sectarian lines — with a weakened central government.

Sunnis have long lobbied for a strong central government that can equally distribute the nation’s oil revenues and defend Iraq’s borders; Iraq’s largest petroleum deposits are found in the Kurdish north and Shiite south.

Al-Alwani said his primary concern was that a sectarian-divided Iraq would inspire meddling from Iran and other neighboring countries.

Modest deposits of oil
While Sunni territory is not known for its oil reserves, recent studies have found increased estimates of modest deposits. Al-Alwani said he invites private investors from the U.S. to help develop Anbar’s oil and natural reserves, located in a southern region called Akaz.

“It’s just sitting there, waiting for somebody to make use of it,” said al-Alwani.

Allen said the earlier chaos in Anbar resulted in large part to the U.S. decision to disband the Iraqi army. The closure of state-run businesses also meant a sharp increase in unemployment, he said.

“Al-Qaida parachutes in on top of all of this” and “left the tribal society in complete disarray as they fought the coalition forces,” Allen said. “So, it was really the perfect storm.”

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