More than 500 insurgents have laid down their weapons in Balad

Balad, Iraq-
Since May 22, a total of 506 suspected insurgents in Balad, a mixed Sunni-Shia area of over a 100,000 about an hour north of Baghdad, have reconciled with U.S. forces.

On May 22, and the following two days, there was a mass surrender of over 200 men to coalition forces at Patrol Base Palawoda. The U.S. and Iraqi forces were taken by surprise at the amount of once wanted men turning themselves in at the heed of several key tribal leaders.

The new number of 506 has sparked interest on the blogsphere and satellite TV. What are the conditions that have prompted these men to lay down their arms?

The commander of 1st Squad/32nd Cavalry Regiment of 1st/101st ABN, who control security around Balad, had previously set deadlines for known insurgents to reconcile by. Reconciliation is a process in which insurgents meet with US and Iraqi forces to officially lay down their arms in exchange for some amnesty.

Much of this is based on relationships. Local sheiks and militia spread the word that time is running out. Of course, the Airborne backing up the "or else" with raids that kill or capture high-value targets, is the stick that leads the carrot.

According to the Army, the reconciliation process begins with the wanted man contacting coalition and Iraqi security forces to enter the process; a meeting is then scheduled.

Each individual is informed up front of the conditions associated with their reconciliation, Army sources said. He must sign a cease-fire agreement, If the man has an outstanding warrant, a court date is scheduled through the Joint Command Center to face an Iraqi Judge.

If he misses the court date, he forfeits his status and is put back on the active target list for detainment.

"People who reconcile must be treated fairly. If others see that those reconciling are treated fairly, then they will come in, the process will work, and reconciliation will have been responsible for bringing peace for this Qada (County)", said Lt. Col Richard McCarthy of 1st Squadron/32nd Cavalry Regiment of the 1st/101st Airborne Division.

Out of the 506 who who reconciled, 160 Iraqis have had court dates set with several having been found to be not guilty of the charges they faced.

There is hope among U.S. forces that the Balad reconciliations will spread
north to other key cities in Sal Ah Din province, where the mass laying down of arms would do much to help the elections planned for the fall.

The fact that insurgents this week planted a car bomb and killed a leading Sheik from Saddam's old tribe, a man who actually received Saddam's body, and recently said he wanted to reconcile, points to the critical struggle that may be brewing over reconciliations in Tikrit.