Michael Yon has stayed in Baqubah, after the frenzied swarm of journalists had come and gone. Yon is staying to observe the aftermath.
The big news on the streets today is that the people of Baqubah are generally ecstatic, although many hold in reserve a serious concern that we will abandon them again. For many Iraqis, we have morphed from being invaders to occupiers to members of a tribe. I call it the “al Ameriki tribe,” or “tribe America.”Source
I’ve seen this kind of progression in Mosul, out in Anbar and other places, and when I ask our military leaders if they have sensed any shift, many have said, yes, they too sense that Iraqis view us differently. In the context of sectarian and tribal strife, we are the tribe that people can—more or less and with giant caveats—rely on.
Most Iraqis I talk with acknowledge that if it was ever about the oil, it’s not now. Not mostly anyway. It clearly would have been cheaper just to buy the oil or invade somewhere easier that has more. Similarly, most Iraqis seem now to realize that we really don’t want to stay here, and that many of us can’t wait to get back home. They realize that we are not resolved to stay, but are impatient to drive down to Kuwait and sail away. And when they consider the Americans who actually deal with Iraqis every day, the Iraqis can no longer deny that we really do want them to succeed. But we want them to succeed without us. We want to see their streets are clean and safe, their grass is green, and their birds are singing. We want to see that on television. Not in person. We don’t want to be here. We tell them that every day. It finally has settled in that we are telling the truth.
Now that all those realizations and more have settled in, the dynamics here are changing in palpable ways.
Since my reporting of the massacre at the al Hamari village, many readers at home have asked how anyone can know that al Qaeda actually performed the massacre. The question is a very good one, and one that I posed from the first hour to Iraqis and Americans while trying to ascertain facts about the killings.
No one can claim with certainty that it was al Qaeda, but the Iraqis here seem convinced of it. At a meeting today in Baqubah one Iraqi official I spoke with framed the al Qaeda infiltration and influence in the province. Although he spoke freely before a group of Iraqi and American commanders, including Staff Major General Abdul Kareem al Robai who commands Iraqi forces in Diyala, and LTC Fred Johnson, the deputy commander of 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, the Iraqi official asked that I withhold his identity from publication. His opinion, shared by others present, is that al Qaeda came to Baqubah and united many of the otherwise independent criminal gangs.
Speaking through an American interpreter, Lieutenant David Wallach who is a native Arabic speaker, the Iraqi official related how al Qaeda united these gangs who then became absorbed into “al Qaeda.” They recruited boys born during the years 1991, 92 and 93 who were each given weapons, including pistols, a bicycle and a phone (with phone cards paid) and a salary of $100 per month, all courtesy of al Qaeda. These boys were used for kidnapping, torturing and murdering people.
At first, he said, they would only target Shia, but over time the new al Qaeda directed attacks against Sunni, and then anyone who thought differently. The official reported that on a couple of occasions in Baqubah, al Qaeda invited to lunch families they wanted to convert to their way of thinking. In each instance, the family had a boy, he said, who was about 11-years-old. As LT David Wallach interpreted the man’s words, I saw Wallach go blank and silent. He stopped interpreting for a moment. I asked Wallach, “What did he say?” Wallach said that at these luncheons, the families were sat down to eat. And then their boy was brought in with his mouth stuffed. The boy had been baked. Al Qaeda served the boy to his family.
The Deputy Governor for Diyala Province had told me on 04 July that al Qaeda burned the home of a Provincial Council leader named Abdul Jabar. Jabar, an Iraqi official who has no reservations about being named as a source, provided information about the killings I described in the dispatch “Bless the Beasts and Children.” Abdul Jabar lived in the area of the al Hamira village, which he said is properly spelled al Ahamir. Jabar agreed to a video interview, during which he said al Qaeda killed and disposed of hundreds of people in the area.
....On D +1 and for those first few days of Operation Arrowhead Ripper, the Iraqi leaders seemed mostly inert. But now on D+16, only about two weeks later, they are out politicking, showing their faces in public, letting the people know they are in charge. And, unlike the tired cliché of a politician in a parade, they truly have been working behind the scenes. I know because I sit in on the meetings, and listen to the progress reports as items on the lists get checked off. I hear the whining as each section of Baqubah seems to think they are the forgotten ones. “Why the Sunni getting help first?” They ask. But then in another neighborhood, “Why the Shia getting help first?” But I watch the sausage-making. LTC Johnson will say, “Mike, c’mon. It’s time to make suasage and you need to see this.” It’s messy and frustrating. But food shipments have resumed to Baqubah after 10 months of nothing.
Iraq is a big mess--a mess of Arabic proportions. Militant Islamism is making sausage out of the Arab youth bulge at this time. If they can survive the frenzy to learn life's important lessons, perhaps there is hope.
If the west chooses not to engage the Arabic middle east during this time of crisis, the frenzy will certainly reach out and touch the west. Again. And again. And again....
Whether the current counter-insurgency/anti-terror action in Iraq succeeds or fails, it is absolutely vital that western militaries learn to fight the jihad. Because the jihad is worldwide and growing with the demographic youth bulge. There is no avoiding it by holding heads in the sand, although many "pundits" choose that route.