Protests started in Anbar province in December 2012 when arrest warrants were issued for some of then Finance Minister Rafi Issawi’s guards. They quickly spread to other Sunni areas of the country, as many other people were feeling unhappy with their representatives and how the government was acting, and decided to take their frustration out into the streets. A mix of tribes, political parties, clerics, and insurgents quickly came to support the demonstrations, which created divisions as each was in it for their own ends. That has come to the fore as the Mutahidun Party is offering to talk with Baghdad over ending the protests now that the 2013 provincial elections are over.
The Mutahidun Party has recently taken steps to put an end to the demonstrations. In October 2013, elements of the Anbar protest movement announced that they had appointed Governor Ahmed Diab to negotiate with the central government. This came after a series of meetings between activists and Anbar officials over what they should do next. It was deiced that Diab would present a series of demands to Baghdad. Those include the release of prisoners, sectarian balance in the government, stopping the use of the anti-terrorism law, ending deBaathification, and amending the constitution. A State of Law parliamentarian immediately welcomed this initiative as the governor was a legitimate representative of the province, and therefore had the authority to talk with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. At the beginning of the month Governor Diab travelled to Baghdad to meet with the premier where things reportedly went well. Diab is newly elected to office, and comes from Speaker of Parliament Osama Nujafi’s Mutahidun Party. It has been speculated that now that the provincial elections are over Mutahidun is no longer interested in the protest movement. Offering to talk with Maliki to gain some concessions could be a way to put them to rest. The prime minister is interested in closing down the demonstrations as he has consistently criticized them, and blamed them in part for the rising violence in the country. That gives ample reason for both sides to try to find a way out. There are two problems involved in achieving that goal. First, Maliki offered some reforms before such as changing the deBaathification process, but it was blocked in parliament. With national elections next year it is very unlikely that the leading parties would agree to any major changes that could hurt them in the polls. Second, there’s no guarantee that any deal cut between Mutahidun and the prime minister would dissuade the crowds from ending their protests.
The later issue has to do with the divided nature of the protest movement. There are three main trends within the demonstrations. One is a reformist group that wants changes in the government supported by Mutahidun and Sheikh Abdul Malik al-Saadi the leading cleric behind the protests. A second faction is led by the Iraqi Islamic Party and wants to form Sunni regions in Iraq. A third wants armed struggle and is connected to the insurgency. Those differences have already led to criticism of Diab’s mission to. One sheikh said that the governor only represented Mutahidun, and called for Sheikh al-Saadi to go to Baghdad instead. An organizer in Fallujah connected to other sites in Hawija and Tikrit on the other hand, rejected the governor outright, and called for the government to come directly to the protest areas directly. Whether that was a legitimate demand or not is not known since all three of those locations have been connected to militants. These splits have been apparent before when talk of a delegation from Anbar was discussed back in June 2013. That brought up instant criticisms from some sectors. That means if Governor Diab was able to make any sort of deal with Maliki it would only have an impact upon those protesters connected with his party. The rest would be unlikely to quite down for some time, although there’s a chance that they may putter out if they see some progress and witness others going home. That must be what both the prime minister and Mutahidun are hoping for.
Iraq’s Sunni protests have been going on for ten months now and have nothing to show for it. At least one party, Mutahidun, is ready to be done with them. The list did good but not great in the 2013 provincial elections showing that its alignment with the demonstrations did not mean instant success at the polls. Now it wants to move onto other matters and has talked to some parts of the Anbar protests to back Governor Diab to open up a dialogue with Premier Maliki. Now the hard part begins, which involves getting something substantive done in Baghdad that will appease the activists. That’s the real issue since Maliki’s executive powers only covers a few of the demands delivered by Diab. If anything is achieved through these talks there will be plenty of detractors, but the prime minister and Mutahidun are hoping that a little effort will go a long way to eventually ending the protests.
Abbas, Mushreq, “Iraq’s Sunni Protesters Divided Over Government Negotiations,” Al-Monitor, 10/14/13
AIN, “Anbar tribes to negotiate with government to end protests’ crisis,” 5/30/13
National Iraqi News Agency, “Chief of Ubaid Tribe says that Anbar protestors, tribal chiefs support negotiations with the government,” 6/1/13
- “Maliki’s Advisor: Maliki’s meeting with Anbar’s governor was positive and fruitful,” 10/7/13
- “Sit-in of Anbar warn the governor to form a delegation to negotiate on behalf of them,” 6/5/13
New Sabah, “Anbar delegate their portfolios to fight negotiations,” 10/5/13
Radio Nawa, “Dulaimi Amir warns al-Maliki keep the army in Anbar,” 6/1/13
Al Tamimi, Aymenn, “Pessimism clouds any survey of Islamist protests in Iraq,” The National, 8/19/13