Samarra, Iraq — “You were an American soldier here in 2006?” asks Abu Saif.
“Yes,” I reply.
“Then you remember the Al Bazzi tribe,” he slyly posits. “We were one of the groups shooting at you,” he winks.
“Oh, yes, I remember,” I recall, now wearing my own grin. “And we shot back.”
With that, we part ways — but not before memorializing the moment with a photo.
The guys would not believe this. The Abu Saif I met today — leader in the Samarra Rescue Council — is not the Abu Saif we knew in 2006. Same goes for Abu Faruk, Abu Anis, and others in the room. All were High-Value Targets just two years ago — men we tried our damnedest to kill or capture — and today they are our partners.
For a soldier, it’s tough to square this circle — as I’d rather have avowed enemies six-feet under than six-feet in front of me; especially those who may have killed or injured a brother-in-arms. But today — embedded with a new unit in Samarra — I can more easily forget the memory of old enemies than the present threat of enduring ones. The friends of my brothers are — I suppose — my friends, and I’m witnessing the awakening I thought possible in 2006.
The story of the Samarra Rescue Council (Samarra’s “Sahwa,” or Awakening Movement) is complex, with every aspect of its development deserving detailed explanation. Yet I am certain of two things after witnessing the “Sons of Samarra” (SOS) firsthand: One, they would not be in existence today were it not for the persistence and foresight of brave Americans; and two, they are the single most important factor in Samarra’s dramatic, and quite sudden, turnaround. The brilliant counterinsurgency strategy I wrote about yesterday serves primarily to support this indigenous movement.