Ten months since the protests started in Anbar in December 2012 it now appears that a political deal might be cut to end them. Speaker Osama Nujafi’s Mutahidun Party has gone from one of their biggest supporters to now wanting to end them, while Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is under pressure to make some concessions given the deteriorating security situation in the country. The change in mood has been seen over the last two months as the premier has met with various Anbar notables including Governor Ahmed Diab and Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha the head of the Awakening. It’s far from clear whether any meaningful will come from these talks, but the effort is under way to conclude the demonstrations.
In October 2013 factions within the protest movement decided to hold negotiations with Baghdad. On October 3 newly elected Governor Ahmed Diab from the Mutahidun Party was appointed as the demonstrators’ representative. That was welcomed by the central government, which said that the governor was a legitimate official of the province and therefore had the authority to speak with the premier. Shortly afterward Maliki met with Diab in Baghdad. Mutahidun was one of the key political allies for the protest movement after it started. Now that it took Anbar in this year’s provincial balloting however it appears that it is interested in other matters and willing to discuss a way to shut down the demonstrations.
In November there were more announcements of meetings between Anbar notables and the central government. At the beginning of the month Maliki sent an invitation to Anbar Governor Diab to come to Baghdad once again. The head of the Anbar provincial council said that he and other members had been asked to meet with the premier as well. There was even a story reported in the press that Maliki would be coming to Anbar, but that was later denied. There was also news that the prime minister would recognize Sheikh Abu Risha as the head of the Awakening. In the summer of 2012 Baghdad tried to split the movement by appointing Sheikh Wisam Abdul Ibrahim Hardan the new head of the Awakening. That was done because Abu Risha was one of the major backers of the protests. Abu Risha and Maliki did meet on November 7, but all that came of it was that the sheikh asked the government to support the security forces rather than militias. One of the major themes of the demonstrators over the last few months was that Baghdad was using Shiite militias to terrorize Sunnis. There have been attempts to reconcile with the Anbar Operations Command as well, which has been the focus of many complaints by locals. The provincial council met with the head of the Command as well as officers of the security forces and called for the end of arbitrary arrests. The Operations Command freed a few prisoners as a good will gesture afterward. The council members claimed that the Awakening would be incorporated into future security operations. Parliamentarian Izzat Shabandar from Maliki’s State of Law told the media that Baghdad had already reached an agreement with Anbar’s tribes and local leaders. The lawmaker claimed that he had met with former Finance Minister and now vice chairman of Mutahidun Rafi Issawi twice to allow for his return. Arrest warrants for Issawi’s bodyguards was what originally sparked the protests in Anbar in December 2012 and led to his eventual resignation from government. That report was said to be false too. There is obviously a flurry of activity going on between the provincial and central governments. One problem is determining whether all of these stories are true or not. The one about Maliki going to Anbar has already been denied for example, and there have been plenty of others about Baghdad and Issawi reconciling, but nothing has come of them. The fact that the two sides are talking however is a positive sign that at least Mutahidun and perhaps Abu Risha are interested in coming to some kind of understanding with Baghdad. In eleven months the protests have achieved nothing substantive, but perhaps these meetings can bring something about.
At the same time there is plenty of criticism coming from within Anbar about this initiative. First, the protesters are not a unified group consisting of many different organizations with various agendas. Some immediately criticized Governor Diab’s appointment for instance claiming he didn’t represent them. Deputy head of the Anbar council Saleh Issawi was quoted in Al-Mada saying that Maliki was not serious about cooperating on security. A Mutahidun politician stated that the prime minister was only interested in holding onto power, and that these talks were simply a way for him to improve his image before the 2014 elections. A council member from Fallujah expressed skepticism that anything would come from these negotiations as former Governor Khadim Mohammed Faris Fahadawi had gone to Baghdad to discuss the demonstrator’s demands and nothing happened afterward. There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. On the one hand, the demonstrators are made up of various groups that do not share the same agenda. If Mutahidun is able to make a deal with Baghdad that does not mean that all the protests will end. It’s also unclear whether Maliki is willing and able to make any real concessions. Many of the protest demands such as ending the anti-terrorism law or amending the deBaathification process would require an act of parliament and that’s not going to happen given the current political climate.
There has definitely been a change in Anbar at least politically. Mutahidun has now secured control of the province and wants to move onto other issues, and would like to see the demonstrations end. Maliki is being pressured to come up with some sort of solution to the growing violence in the country, and working out a deal with Anbar might help with that. The Awakening for example could help fight insurgents. This is the impetus behind the recent wave of meetings between Governor Diab, Sheikh Abu Risha, and the planned visit of a delegation from the Anbar council to Baghdad. If the pace of talks continues at this level there’s a good chance that something could be worked out. There’s a question about what Maliki can offer, and whether all those in Anbar will listen, but the will appears to be there on Mutahidun and State of Law’s part to figure out some kind of compromise. If Mutahidun can then talk their followers to abandon the protests perhaps the rest will eventually follow too.
Abbas, Mushreq, “Iraq’s Sunni Protesters Divided Over Government Negotiations,” Al-Monitor, 10/14/13
AIN, “Anbar Governor: Government, Demonstrators willing to settle demonstrations file,” 11/8/13
- “Maliki adviser: The Prime Minister did not cost Shabandar any role on the issue of al-Issawi,” 11/10/13
- “Urgent…Head of Anbar PC: Maliki to meet Anbar PC over demonstrators’ demands,” 11/5/13
Al-Mada, “Abu Risha Maliki calls for supporting “Iraqi forces” in Anbar and confirms: Awakening just new names and fake,” 11/7/13
- “Anbar Provincial Council confirms that it “will not talk politics” during his meeting with al-Maliki and united asking him to “correct his mistakes,”” 11/9/13
National Iraqi News Agency, “Maliki sends a formal invitation to the Government of Anbar to visit Baghdad,” 11/5/13
- “Maliki’s Advisor: Maliki’s meeting with Anbar’s governor was positive and fruitful,” 10/7/13
New Sabah, “Anbar delegate their portfolios to fight negotiations,” 10/5/13
- “Painful blows to second base and the awakening of the clans,” 11/5/13
Shafaq News, “Close to Maliki denies the latter’s intention to visit Anbar,” 11/9/13
- “Leader in State of law reveals “understandings” with local and tribal leaders in Anbar,” 11/9/13
- “Sources: Maliki in Anbar soon and agreement with Abu Risha,” 11/5/13