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Six years in Iraq: three American stories

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Watching a succession of events, including the April 2004 public mutilating and burning of four American contractors in Fallujah, Bowers found himself wondering, “How is this going so wrong?”

It was about the same time that some US officials, including in the Pentagon, were beginning to discuss the need for a different approach in Iraq – thinking that would eventually lead to the “surge” of US troops and a focus on winning over local populations.

A wiry man with an intense gaze, Bowers got his chance to employ the “civilian first” approach during his Fallujah deployment – a tough test, he says, given that the battle’s objective was to rid the city of the Al Qaeda sympathizers who had come to dominate it. “It’s not easy to establish the rapport you need for long-term success when it looks like all you’re about is blowing the place up,” he says.

He might not have been able to do it without Moufid. He was a critical link to establishing trust, Bowers says, and helped the Americans make contacts with influential Fallujans who wanted to break free of the Al-Qaeda-inspired insurgency.

“He helped us make the critical point you always want to make,” Bowers adds: “that it’s not the US doing these things like rebuilding services or creating local councils for the Iraqis, but the Iraqis doing it for themselves.”

Bowers has heard recent reports that marines in Fallujah are now patrolling without helmets. That tells him that his work – and Moufid’s – has succeeded.

“We can still trip up, but the path we have left to travel should be easier because of what we’ve learned,” says Bowers, now director of government affairs for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

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