Deployed to the Sunni Triangle, working directly with the people of Iraq became the duty which consumed the majority of my time during my tour there. I was responsible for processing claims against the U.S. government when an Iraqi believed we had committed a wrong against them and claimed compensation for loss of property or life.
It became clear very early on during the process of interviewing the hundreds of Iraqi's who made such claims, that often times their loss was not a result of our actions, but the actions of insurgents, Al Qaeda.
One day an old woman approached me, surrounded by several men from her village, as was customary for those occasions when women engaged me directly during this process. As she spoke and I listened to her story being translated to me, I remember watching her hands. They were extremely chapped from years of hard, laborious work and stained orange, I assumed from working with some type of plant. They told as much a story as she did.
The woman, a widow, and mother of just one remaining young teenage son, told me of the foreign men who had forced themselves into her home, which turned out was a very small shack set off away from other homes, for a night of lodging and meals. Obviously a particularly poor woman, even for an Iraqi, fearful for her and her son, with no food to offer and a very small shack to live in, against custom she had refused to the best of her ability. The next morning as her son rode his bike down the road, a roadside bomb just happened to go off next to him, killing him. Obviously the bad guys were making their point to her and the rest of the village about not cooperating.
Now, the last of her children, preceded by their father, was gone and she had nothing left.
She was asking me for any possible assistance, money for food, because without her son who had been working, making at least a meager amount of money for food, she was now unable to provide for herself.
My translator, a particularly unforgiving man, with no love for Sunni's, who'd suffered at the hands of Saddam Hussein was clearly becoming, for the first and only time, emotionally moved by the events of this poor woman's life. You could hear it in his voice, see it in his expressions, and sense it in his body language. For the first and only time, I heard him gently address an elderly woman using the Arabic word for "mother." Usually he wanted me to have everyone thrown in jail, but this time, he showed pity and compassion.
I wanted to give the woman everything I could, but my hands were tied and I was unable to forward her claim. It didn't qualify. My only solace as she left was that the tight-knit nature of Iraq's extended families, clans, villages, and tribes would answer her needs for provision.
On days like this, when the claims clearly turned out to be the work of Al Qaeda inflicting pain into the lives of Iraqi's, my job was a frustrating one. Asking us to compensate them for losses occurring by the hand of Al Qaeda initially made my head spin and my blood boil, both because of the logic behind such requests and the heartbreak it brought hearing the pain inflicted on some really wonderful people by some of the world's most evil characters.
But these also became opportunities to implore action.
As I explained to the Iraqi's, these were times for them to take up arms against Al Qaeda. It was time to ask the American's for help ridding their villages of Al Qaeda, not cash for criminal acts committed against them by "Ali Babba." Eventually some did begin informing on Al Qaeda and other criminal elements. We were able to gain actionable intelligence which was followed up on.
Nearly three years later, over the course of the last six months, that retaliation against Al Qaeda has turned into a large movement across much of the Sunni Triangle.
A coalition of sheiks and their tribesmen have come together in defiance of Al Qaeda, openly fighting against them. The numbers of Sunni's who have joined the police forces and the numbers of tips relaying information about Al Qaeda coming in from the Iraqi people has gained tremendous momentum. There is a full fledged fight from the Iraqi's against Al Qaeda taking place in many parts of the Sunni Triangle.
My prayers are for that to momentum to build into Baghdad and the surrounding areas. Anbar province is turning the corner and without the chaotic influence of Al Qaeda elsewhere in the country, Iraq has a much better chance for success.
After all, Al Qaeda is set on killing as many Iraqi's as it takes to accomplish their goal of taking over at least part of that country. Recently, they attempted to rig a newly built girls' school with explosives and detonate it during class time.
This and their other murderous, maniacal efforts to destabilize the country and establish a theocratic base of terrorist operations, as Zawahiri again openly declared recently, intentions he and Osama bin Laden have stated so many times before, continue to prove why we need to stay in the fight against Al Qaeda in Iraq.