More than the U.S. military ever knew, the Sunni tribes in Iraq prevented America's long, searing occupation from descending into an even bigger fiasco than it was. That's just one lesson the U.S. is missing by not taking advantage of the biggest data trove of the war: the accounts of Iraqis who lived through it.
In the popular American conception of the Iraq war, the tribes didn't play a significant role in the war until around 2006, when they abruptly defected from the Sunni insurgency to stand with U.S. forces during the surge. The brutality of al-Qaida in Iraq — who would punish the ostensible sin of cigarette smoking by chopping off the fingers of the Sunnis they claimed to protect — compelled one of the most momentous strategic shifts of the war.
That is nowhere near the complete truth, according to Najim Abed al-Jabouri. Jabouri was a two-star general in Saddam Hussein's army who became one of America's most prominent and heralded partners against the extremist forces in Iraq that killed nearly 4,500 U.S. troops. Jabouri was the key Iraqi partner for U.S. Army then-Col. H.R. McMaster in Tall Afar, a city that became a proving ground for the counterinsurgency strategy that Gen. David Petraeus would later implement and make famous.