CAMP RAMADI, Iraq --
The invitation has been sent. Ramadi, the capital city of Iraq’s Al Anbar province, is seeking one special U.S. community with which to join in promoting peace through mutual respect, understanding and cooperation.
This is the goal of Sister Cities International, a nonprofit citizen diplomacy network representing more than 2,500 communities in 134 countries.
The program was recently introduced to the mayor of Ramadi, Mayor Latif Obaid Ayadah, by Lt. Col. Mark Mitchell of Task Force Ramadi. “The Sister Cities initiative will help establish relationships with a U.S. community,” said Mitchell. Ayadah responded without hesitation, giving Mitchell his permission to have Ramadi entered into the Sister Cities Web site and start the process of finding an American city that matches up well with the Iraqi city.
Mitchell is one of several task force members supporting the Department of State’s embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team 2 – Ramadi. The ePRTs assist the local governments in building their capacity to govern more effectively and deliver essential services. The ePRT-Ramadi is focusing on strengthening the capacity of the municipal government to transition to Iraqi self-reliance.
“I spent some time researching and trying to come up with what would be an ideal community match for Ramadi,” Mitchell said. Based on the demographics of Ramadi, he believes the best U.S. match would be a state capital city with a strong agricultural sector, a university and a significant Arab or Muslim population. He said that an initial search of U.S. cities based on these criteria yielded 25 possible matches.
After getting the approval of Ayadah to incorporate Ramadi into the program, Mitchell began inputting information about the city into the Sister Cities Web site.
“When you register the city, you have to do a write-up of about six-hundred words,” he said. He first tried to identify what the selling point of Ramadi would be. “Why would you, as a U.S. community, want to partner with Ramadi? Well Ramadi has a unique history,” he said. “The people directly experienced rule by al-Qaeda. All al-Qaeda did was commit atrocities and the people got sick of it. They rose up against them, with the help of coalition forces, and overthrew al-Qaeda in the city,” he said. “So the selling point of Ramadi to an American community is having a common foe that we are fighting against.”
Ramadi is the latest of more than 10 Iraqi cities to join in the peace program. The city and its future sister community in the U.S. can benefit from information exchanges on topics ranging from arts and culture to essential government services and emergency response. There are also opportunities for student exchange programs between universities and annual conferences where city representatives can meet and discuss the relationships between the communities.
Once an American community has been identified as a match for Ramadi, the two cities will exchange letters of interest that will establish a relationship. Committees of citizen volunteers will be formed to work closely with the city governments in coordinating the sister city activities. Citizen committees help ensure the sustainment of the program and encourage broad community support. The relationship is formalized with the highest elected officials of each city signing a Sister Cities International agreement. Once this is complete, the communities will begin implementing mutually agreed upon projects.
Mitchell said he is submitting a grant request to help fund projects associated with the program. “This will help with things like bringing Al Anbar University personnel over to a sister city, or lawyers, or city council members. The funds will also help with costs associated with shipping things like agricultural and medical equipment, school supplies or books for the university,” he said. Although equipment and supplies may be donated, there is still a cost for getting them to Iraq.
Mitchell said he thinks one of the most important reasons for getting Ramadi paired with a U.S. community through the Sister Cities International program is to help establish relationships that will last beyond the presence of American service members in the area. With the help of ePRT – 2 Ramadi, relationships built between local citizens and their U.S. counterparts will enable access to expertise and training in the areas of governance, rule of law, medicine, business, economics, finance, agriculture, tourism, education and many others. “This will give the two communities a chance to build a strong relationship so that once we are gone, they can just pick up a phone or send an email and request help or just converse.”
Task Force Ramadi is a tailored task force made up of more than 100 military and civilian personnel from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps forward deployed to Camp Ramadi to support ongoing operations in Multi National Force-West’s area of operations. The task force deployed from Standing Joint Force Headquarters, U.S. Joint Forces Command, Norfolk, Va., Feb. 16, 2008.