Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Seeds of An Awakening

The four Iraqi men walked into the room. They were dressed in traditional, formal Arab garb. All were about 6 feet tall, strongly built, dark haired and thickly mustached. Two were older gentlemen, roughly in their late 50’s. Two were younger, likely their early 30’s. They were impressively charismatic, presented themselves somewhat regally, and from their features, were obviously related to one another.

After the usual greetings, they took seats on a wooden bench along one wall of the small dusty room, the chosen location for so many of the meetings I was having with the Iraqi’s from the area. A dilapidated, yet functional air conditioner missing its front cover hummed in the window. At least we were cool, regardless of what these meetings brought.

I also sat on a wooden bench, thrown together from scrounged up scraps of wood, my interpreter next to me. A Corporal, my guardian angel, stood near the door. Three other Marines, members of a Human Intelligence (HUMINT) Exploitation Team (HET) assigned to the area stood along one wall to the side of the Iraqi men. Although this was their first attendance at one of my meetings, they would soon become frequent visitors.

As the four men sat, one elder and one younger man looked toward the other older gentleman. The hierarchy was established.

The second of the younger men slouched and looked straight ahead, a combination of dismay and annoyance crossing his face. His overall demeanor was like that of a teenager who’d been forced along on a family outing.

Further introductions revealed the village they were from and that the one man to whom the others deferred was the sheik, the other his brother, and the two younger men his sons.

I asked the sheik what it was that had brought us together that day. He replied that he was seeking assistance in getting running water and electricity to his village.

The leader of the HET team immediately stepped forward and addressed the sheik.

Their team, along with an escort from a nearby Army unit, had tried to enter his village the week before. They came under heavy attack and had to fight their way out. One of his Marines had died in the action.

The HET leader demanded information about the terrorists and insurgents in the village. I told the sheik we simply couldn’t begin to help if we were attacked while trying to do so. The message was clear, “Tell us who the bad guys are, and then we’ll see if there’s something we could do about the electricity and water.”

What ensued was a heated circuitous exchange of denial from three of the Iraqi’s about the identities of the perpetrators and our demanding information about who they were.

All the while, I watched as the fourth man, the second of the sheik’s sons, sat back on the bench, looked to the ceiling and shook his head or looked to me and rolled his eyes with each denial by the other three about the identities of the insurgents and terrorists.

When it became obvious the debate was going nowhere and the non-verbal message from the son was clear, I called a halt to the meeting and asked everyone to leave, except for the son, my interpreter and guardian angel.

When the room had cleared, I looked back at the son and asked, in English, “You know who the bad guys are, don’t you?” He smiled a huge satisfied smile and fully nodded his head. “Who are they?” I demanded, again in English. He immediately began to rattle off names, personal and vehicle descriptions, whereabouts and daily schedules, everything we’d need to hunt down the insurgents.

That man became the first of nine Iraqi’s in the Sunni Triangle, starting about May of 2004, who became regular allies for me, informing on Al Qaeda. All nine had a common purpose: to make their villages safer and to avenge injustices and atrocities committed by Al Qaeda against them, their families and villages.

While Al Qaeda was sowing the seeds of despair in Anbar province, there were also seeds of a rebellion being sown against them, sown and cultivated until the end of the summer 2006 when the Anbar Awakening began to spring forth as a province wide movement.

Those war critics, like Barack Obama, who believe the Awakening did not occur until the Iraqi’s perceived a threat from the Democrats taking power in Congress at the beginning of 2007 need to go back and relearn the timeline and the history.

It should be simple, because that history just happened. They shouldn’t be so arrogant as to assume that those of us who were a part of it have already forgotten it.

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