Key Players

Key Players

A U.S. raid in June 2003 unleashed a sequence of events that would indelibly change Thuluyah, an oasis-like town along the Tigris River. These are the people whose lives intersected, sometimes tragically, with the repercussions of that raid over the next six years. - Anthony Shadid

Hashim Mohammed Aani

The 15-year-old was one of three people killed in Thuluyah during the June 2003 U.S. raid. Shy and awkward, he was known in the town for a bird cage he had built of scrap wood and chicken-coop wire in which he kept four canaries and a nightingale. Too fearful to leave the house, his family had left his body unclaimed near a muddy canal for hours after he was killed, causing it to swell in the sun.

Sabah Kerbul

An informer for U.S. soldiers in the raid, he was blamed by residents in Thuluyah for the three deaths. The 28-year-old was the oldest of five brothers, and their family owned a small plot of land with orchards of fig and almond trees, vineyards and citrus groves. He had served in prison before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and was thought to have worked briefly as an informer for Saddam Hussein's Baathist government. Some residents said his low standing in the village made him an easy target.

Salah Kerbul

The second oldest of the Kerbul brothers, he helped his father kill Sabah after the town's sheiks delivered the ultimatum in July 2003. His father fired the first two shots, which tore through Sabah's leg and torso. Some accounts say the father then collapsed. Salah then fired three times, once at his brother's head. After the shooting, he fled the town, returning only three years later. Now 29, he works as a day laborer.

Nadhim Khalil

The son and grandson of clerics, Khalil leads the Caliphs Mosque, the largest in Thuluyah. To almost everyone in the town, he is known as Mullah Nadhim. He was jailed twice by the U.S. military, first at the Abu Ghraib prison and then at Camp Cropper. This year, the Iraqi government imprisoned him for more than four months before clearing him of all charges. The well-known insurgent leader turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2007, a decision many in the town consider a turning point in the fight against the group.

Mawlud Awad al-Jabbouri

A former brigadier in Iraqi intelligence, Jabbouri was among more than 400 people arrested during Operation Peninsula Strike. He and all but 50 were released a few days later. Jabbouri's social background mirrored that of most Thuluyah residents. Before the invasion, as many as 90 percent of the townspeople were members of the Baath Party. As many as a fourth were employed by the army, government or intelligence.

Saad Salah Ali

A cousin of Jabbouri's, he, too, was arrested during Peninsula Strike, then released a few days later after being held at an abandoned air base seven miles north of the town. He had served as a colonel in the Iraqi army before the invasion.

Abdel-Hamid Shweish

At 60, he is one of Thuluyah's two preeminent sheiks. He is a leader of the Jabbouri tribe, the largest in the town, representing more than a third of Thuluyah's residents. The other leading tribes are Albu Farraj, Bujwari and Khazraji. During al-Qaeda in Iraq's reign in Thuluyah, insurgents fired mortars at Shweish's house and seized much of his authority. He returned to the forefront after the group's defeat.

Hussein Ali Saleh

At 82, he is Thuluyah's other preeminent sheik, leading another branch of the Jabbouri tribe. During al-Qaeda in Iraq's reign, he was forced to deploy as many as 10 armed men to protect his villa, verdant with rose bushes, vineyards and citrus trees. Like Shweish, he has returned to the forefront of the town, helping broker hundreds of disputes, as the town's leading sheiks are expected to.

Safa Saleh

The 34-year-old Arabic teacher was driving with brother Ibrahim on a road outside town in October 2007 when insurgents ambushed their car. They abducted Ibrahim, who was serving as a police lieutenant. After three days of negotiations, his decapitated corpse was returned to the family. His head was never found. Many viewed his death as instrumental in turning the tide of public sentiment against the insurgents.

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