Monday, December 03, 2007

more outstanding progress in fallujah

Fallujah was scary even to other Iraqis throughout the 1990s. Now not only Ramadi is vastly improving in Anbar, but Fallujah is making strides as well... Good Times Roll at Iraqi Bike Race YASSER FAISAL, Reuters December 3, 2007 -- About 150 students wearing colorful T-shirts competed in a bicycle race last week in Fallujah, an unimaginable event a year ago in what was once an al Qaeda hotbed and one of Iraq's most dangerous cities. The city's police chief fired the starting shot to set the students from 15 intermediate and secondary schools off on the 5-kilometer race across the town, 30 miles west of Baghdad. Police motorbikes escorted them along the road, and scores of policemen in blue uniforms were deployed around the start and finish lines. "This race made us happy. We needed this because of what we have been through," schoolteacher Ayad Ghaleb Salem said. "We have gotten used to a difficult life." Scores of families lined the streets to watch the race and milled around the riders to congratulate them after the race. Security in Fallujah, scene of some of the fiercest battles in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, has gradually improved this year, and something resembling normal life is returning to the city. A year ago, western Anbar, in which Fallujah sits, was second only to Baghdad as the most violent province in Iraq. The turnaround in Fallujah's security happened after the development of US-backed neighborhood police units formed by local Sunni Arab tribal leaders to drive al Qaeda out of Anbar. "This proves that the security situation in Fallujah is very good," said Col. Faisel Ismael, head of the city's police. "This is the beginning of good things in Fallujah." Haitham Abdul-Razek raised his arms in the air as he crossed the finish line to win a $1,135 cash prize and a trophy. "Bring the trophy! Bring it," some students chanted after the race, echoing a popular song among Iraqis after their national soccer team won the Asian Cup this year. "Even though I did not win, I am happy that Fallujah's name was held up high today," said 17-year- old Marwan Khoedeiri, adding that he was not scared to compete, because of the security provided by police and army. Attacks across Iraq have fallen by 55 percent since the surge of 30,000 extra US troops became fully deployed in mid-June, part of a security crackdown aimed at averting civil war between the majority Shiite Muslims and the minority Sunni Arabs. Despite the improvement, the largely Sunni Arab Anbar ranked fifth in attacks among Iraq's 18 provinces from early May to late July this year, according to a quarterly Pentagon report released in September.

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