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Understanding the Anbar Awakening

9:30 AM, Dec 22, 2010 • By DAVID MCCORMACK
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Unfortunately, this consciousness was only gained after years of exposure to the local population. In the interim, Coalition efforts floundered, as Americans were unable to distinguish legitimate Iraqi partners from the many frauds. As explained by Maj. Ben Connable, an intelligence officer in al-Anbar from 2005-2006, “We had a very immature understanding of Iraqi culture…. We never got the fact that we were asking something from somebody who was incapable of delivering…. So we would give things away to anybody that was willing to talk to us.”

The commanders’ decision to restore to tribal sheikhs the power that had been taken away from them by AQI was bold and daring.  Implementation was left to subordinates who, instead of adhering to a strict blueprint, skillfully adapted their mission to local circumstances.  As described by Lt. Col. William Jurney, whose battalion served in Ramadi from 2006-2007, “we didn’t specifically follow clear, hold, build…you can conduct civil-military operations which set conditions for kinetic neutralization of the insurgency. It’s one street, one block at a time.” Increasing American dexterity slowly established that the Coalition was a capable partner, allowing local Iraqi powerbrokers to confidently organize resistance to AQI’s presence.

Prospective readers of Al-Anbar Awakening need not worry that the question-and-answer format makes the book tedious. Instead, both the Iraqi and American interviewees are thoughtful and forthcoming (although the Iraqi accounts sometimes give way to histrionics). For those who prefer neatly-packaged history, however, the book can be disorienting and at times frustrating. Yet herein lies its greatest contribution, as it depicts the frenetic nature of the forces that contributed to Iraq’s revival. This story should not be glossed over. As Dr. Thamer al-Assafi concludes, “History speaks for people, for communities…. Whether we like it or not, we have been joined with you in history. We have to clarify for distant people and later generations.”

David McCormack served as a senior civilian Iraq analyst for the Marine Corps from 2007 to 2010. The views expressed here are his own.

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