The Iraqis have different words for “coalition forces” and “occupation forces,” and Sheik Maher explicitly used the latter in conversation, Loftis explained, so “he kind of showed where his compass is pointing.” In other words, Maher was showing Loftis his disdain for American forces, but given the choice between fighting the Americans and al Qaeda, he’s made the decision to fight al Qaeda and take American money for doing so.

So who, exactly, are Maher and Ahmer? There are indications that Maher is affiliated with the 1920s Revolution Brigade, a Sunni insurgent group that has long battled American forces and has been stridently anti-coalition. “Obviously maybe some of the stuff these guys have done is bad,” Loftis said, and they “aren’t necessarily happy with coalition forces being here, but we’re the lesser of the two evils that they have to deal with.” “But you’ve got to move forward. They’re Iraqi patriots is what they are.”

At this point in the war in Iraq, it appears that the enemy of our enemy is our friend. And while many of these insurgent groups are reconciling with American forces, Maher’s joke about the Maliki government shows that among some, reconciliation between Iraqis has a long way to go.

Part One, “The Rejected,” is here.

Part Two, “Men With Guns,” is here.

Part Three: “Night Patrol,” is here.

Part Four: “The Suicide Bomber” is here.

Part Five: “The End of the Weapons Cache” is here.

Part Six: “Riding to Tarmiya” is here.

Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.