Aifan al-Issawi, leader of the powerful Albu Issa tribe of Anbar Province in Iraq, has been killed in a terrorist attack.
I had dinner at Aifan’s house when I was embedded with Marine forces in Anbar in the summer of 2007, during the surge operations. General John Allen (now commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan) had invited me to come along. The compound was just minutes from the “Blackwater bridge” where four American contractors were murdered and left hanging in early 2004, at the beginning of the insurgency. The Albu Issa was among the first Sunni Arab tribes to rebel against al-Qaeda and join the coalition; they did so well before “the Awakening” actually began in the fall of 2006.
I shot this short video after dinner. It consists principally of a conversation between General Allen (then the deputy commander of the Marine forces in western Iraq) and Aifan (in the smart suit behind the desk, speaking through a Marine translator). This exchange shows how vital the American presence had become for political reconciliation to flourish and take root in Iraq after so many years of internecine bloodshed. The casual intermingling of heavily armed Marines and heavily armed tribesmen showed just how much they trusted each other.
This exchange gives some sense of the priceless strategic position President Obama threw away with his “responsible end to the war in Iraq.” It also gives a sense of the situation Iraq may be sliding toward now.
It bears recalling that we embraced Aifan and his tribe as allies, promised that we would stay by his side, and then, when it suited the new American president, abandoned him to fend for himself. Alas, Aifan’s faith in the worth of America’s promises turned out to be misplaced.
“No better friend, no worse enemy,” the Marines like to say of themselves. If only it were true of our country, too.