Sunni Leaders Vow to Fight Terrorism in Anbar Province

Sunni sheiks and community leaders met Saturday in this city west of Baghdad and pledged to fight terrorism and restore peace and security to Anbar province — for years the heart of the insurgency.

They also called for the release of security detainees who had not been convicted of crimes and for a bigger role for their group in representing Sunni interests.

The meeting, attended by dozens of Sunnis including tribal leaders, clerics and professors, was held at the provincial council headquarters in this city, which used to be an insurgent stronghold until many tribesmen decided to fight Al Qaeda.

Among those present were members of the Anbar Awakening, which was formed in April by more than 200 Sunni sheiks who said the group would become a national party. Its platform includes opposition to Al Qaeda and cooperation with the government.

Also present were officials with the Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest Sunni group in Iraq.

At the end of the meeting, the participants issued a statement stating that they have agreed to "stand in one line against the terrorism and defeat it" and work united to return life to its previous nature in this province, build the governmental institutions and the services to citizens.

They also called Iraq's Defense and Interior Ministries as well as multinational forces to release all detainees who had not convicted. They also called for forming a council for tribal leaders from around the country to help in the political process.

Anbar, which stretches from Baghdad's western outskirts to the borders of Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, used to be the most dangerous part of Iraq for U.S. troops. The situation improved dramatically in recent months after angry tribesmen carried arms against Al Qaeda.

The tribal leaders of Anbar, where many of its residents were members of Saddam Hussein's army and security forces, called for reinstating former army members as well as annulling the law that forced thousands of Saddam Hussein's supporters from their jobs.

The United States has pressured Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite-led government to change the law in the interest of national reconciliation.