Sheikh Eifan Saddun al-Isawi poses with George W. Bush.

Shane Bauer, a CIR correspondent, writes for Mother Jones about how the Pentagon bought stability in Iraq by funneling billions of taxpayer dollars to the country’s next generation of strongmen. Bauer writes an illuminating profile of Sheik Eifan Saddun al-Isawi, “the head of Fallujah’s Sahwa, or Awakening, council, the Sunni militia hired by the United States in early 2007 to fight its enemies in Iraq.” In “The Shiek Down,” Bauer hangs out at Eifan’s fortress, takes a ride in his black armored BMW, and observes first-hand the corruption that plagues Falluja and prevents the city from successful reconstruction.

Bauer writes:

Eifan is a beneficiary of what some American personnel call the “make-a-sheikh” program, a semiofficial, little discussed policy that since late 2006 has bankrolled Sunni sheikhs who are, in theory, committed to defending American interests in Iraq. The program was a major part of the Awakening, which the Pentagon has touted as a turning point in reducing violence and creating the conditions for an American withdrawal. It was also a reinstitution of a strategy started by Saddam Hussein, who picked out tribal leaders he could manipulate through patronage schemes. The US military didn’t give the sheikhs straight-up bribes, which would have raised eyebrows in Washington. Instead, it handed out reconstruction contracts. Sometimes issued at three or four times market value, the contracts have been the grease in the wheels of the Awakening in Anbar—the almost entirely Sunni province in western Iraq where Fallujah is located.

… Five years and hundreds of millions of reconstruction dollars later, Fallujah remains a shell. The “city of mosques” still has minarets with gaping holes left by American rockets during the 2004 siege. Men wander the streets; the World Food Programme says 36 percent of Fallujans have no chance of employment. The city gets no more than eight hours of electricity a day. Sewage fills the streets; a sewer project is four years behind schedule and has cost $98 million, more than three times its original budget. Building after building is nothing but broken-down cement frames. Some have been repurposed by the Iraqi army as watchtowers, others by women drying their laundry. Bullet holes pockmark everything.

I walk down the city’s main thoroughfare guided by a police officer. As I chat with a man about the collapsed building beside his shop, my notebook out, a group of men approach, eager to air their grievances. “When any country in the world gets money for reconstruction, it shows. But not here,” says a burly man who calls himself Nabil. “The contractors just slap something together and put the money in their pockets,” he says, slipping invisible bills into an imaginary shirt pocket. “Reconstruction contracts are deals between the Americans and their collaborators. I don’t want to name names, but people who didn’t have cigarettes in their pockets now have piles of money and brand-new, bulletproof cars.”

Shane Bauer is a journalist and photographer based in the Middle East. This story was funded by The Dick Goldensohn Fund from the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, and New American Media. Read his blogs from Iraq on The Muckraker.