Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Anbar Under Iraqi Control, But Political Disputes Continue
On September 1, Anbar province was turned over to the Iraqis. 11 of Iraq’s 18 provinces are now under government control. Anbar was the first province to turn against the United States, and was once the heart of the Sunni insurgency. As reported earlier, beginning in 2005, a few tribes and insurgent groups in the area began turning against Al Qaeda in Iraq. The sheikhs and insurgents were driven by their illegal businesses being encroached upon by the Islamists, their demand for total loyalty or death, resistance to their harsh form of Islamic law, disputes over participating in the 2005 elections, Al Qaeda in Iraq’s killing of innocent civilians, and instigating of a sectarian war. The tribes were the first ones to organize against Al Qaeda in Iraq. After a few failed attempts, they finally organized the Anbar Salvation Council in the fall of 2006 led by Sheikh Sattar Rishawi, who was later assassinated. They, the Islamic Army and 1920 Revolution Brigade turning against Al Qaeda in Iraq, and the arrival of additional Marines to Anbar during the Surge, all helped turn the tables in the province. There are still attacks there, but they are nowhere near where they were. From September 2006 to January 2007 there was an average of 200 attacks per month. That dropped to less than 50 by June. Today, there are about a dozen a month.
Anbar is also the only place in Iraq that large numbers of Sunni Awakening/Sons of Iraq fighters have been integrated into the security forces. Ramadi, the provincial capitol, was one of the first places that the United States began cooperating with the tribes. There one of the U.S. commander’s top priorities was building up a local police force to help with security. Tribal leaders that worked with the Americans helped provide the majority of these recruits. As a result, the number of police in the city went from 35 in June 2006 to 300 in July, to 1,300 in November. By the beginning of 2007 there were 11,000 police in all of Anbar. Today there are 24,000, mostly due to the Awakening. The provincial police chief is also from the tribes. This high level of integration was due to the fact that security in the province was under U.S., rather than Baghdad’s control. The Interior Ministry paid salaries, but the Americans ran the recruiting, training, and operations of the police. The government did try to stall their expansion, but that was largely unsuccessful.
Now that security has finally improved in Anbar, the struggle there has largely turned to politics. The province was scheduled to be handed over in June, but that was delayed. A suicide bombing that killed an Awakening sheikh and some U.S. troops, plus a dust storm were the excuses, but the disputes between the Council and the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) was the real reason. Vice President Tariq Hashemi’s Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) controls the provincial council, because they were the only Sunni party to not boycott the January 2005 elections. During the vote only 2% of Anbar turned out. They lack popular support, and have largely failed to bring services to the area. The Awakening movement considers the IIP illegitimate, and accuses them of corruption, cronyism, and connections to the insurgency. The Awakening has been pushing for new provincial elections, and has formed a coalition of parties to run in them. The Awakening also wants control of reconstruction projects, and the local police force. Some factions have even threatened to use force against the IIP. In February 2008, for example, Sheikh Hamid al-Hayes told the IIP they had a month to leave their provincial seats or they would be forced out. The threat obviously was never followed through with. Currently the two sides are arguing over the provincial police chief whom the council tried to remove.
These disputes were temporarily worked out to facilitate the handover. According to an Awakening sheikh, the two sides cut a deal over Anbar’s transfer to Iraqi control. That didn’t mean the two sides didn’t take the opportunity to take jabs at each other. At the ceremony, the IIP provincial council chief claimed that the tribes were inciting trouble in Anbar, and that wouldn’t be allowed. An Awakening chief fired back that the Islamic Party hadn’t done anything in the province, and implied that it was only because of the tribes that Anbar had improved.
These disputes are likely to continue until the provincial elections. The Awakening Council is expected to sweep the IIP out of office. Parliament was unable to pass the election law in the summer however, and it is unknown when they will be able to actually do it. That will probably mean that the vote will be pushed back until 2009, leaving this conflict more time to simmer.
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