After several attempts at reconciliation between Anbar’s provincial government and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to end the on-going protests there events turned for the worse in December 2013. The premier claimed that the demonstration sites were a base for Al Qaeda and demanded that they be ended, and hinted at a crackdown. Just before that Sheikh Hamid al-Hayes accused the death of his nephew upon the Ramadi protests as well, and threatened to use violence unless the perpetrators were turned over to him. It seemed like either the government or Hayes’ tribe was about to storm the Ramadi protest camp, but then things suddenly calmed down. Stepping back from the brink was best for all concerned, but it was another sign of the decline of the protest movement.
In the middle of December Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki attacked the Anbar protest sites as a terrorist haven and threatened to close them down as a result. Maliki said that the situation in Anbar was allowing insurgents to operate there. He claimed that had allowed the province to become a base for Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), that 30 of its leaders were hiding amongst the protesters, and called for those that did not support the Islamists to exit the demonstration sites immediately. Anbar Governor Ahmed Diab backed the premier and had the security forces surround the Ramadi protest area. It seemed like some sort of crackdown was imminent as one of the protest organizers Sheikh Mohammed al-Fayadh told the National Iraqi News Agency. This was a change in tone for the prime minister who had recently been in talks with Governor Diab, the governorate council, and sheikhs such as Ahmed Abu Risha to offer some concessions that might end the demonstrations. The death of much of the leadership of the 7th Division on December 21 by AQI in Anbar’s Horan Valley likely led to Maliki’s reversal on the protesters. Baghdad launched a major security operation in the governorate in response, and the premier probably thought he could force an end to the demonstrations at the same time.
Fortunately there was a step back from the brink. Speaker of Parliament Osama Nujafi tried to mediate by making a series of calls to political leaders in the country. He eventually secured a guarantee from the prime minister not to storm the protest sites. Governor Diab also ordered the security forces to withdraw from the Ramadi camp as well. If Maliki had followed through with his threat to clear out the protesters there was a good chance that it would have led to a bloodbath like what happened in April in Hawija when dozens of people were killed and wounded by the security forces during a raid on the demonstrators there. Afterward there was an explosion of violence across western, northern and central Iraq by insurgent groups and tribes, which has not subsided since then. That should have taught Baghdad that force was not the way to deal with the protests. All of the rhetoric by Maliki might have been brinkmanship anyway to scare people to leave the sites rather than an actual threat.
At almost the exact same time there was another crisis dealing with Sheikh Hamid al-Hayes. At the beginning of December the sheikh’s nephew was gunned down in Ramadi, and Hayes said his murderers fled into the protest camp there to escape. He gave the organizers 48 hours to turn over the suspects or he would use force to close them down. Hayes was an early supporter of the demonstrators, but has since turned against them. At the beginning of the month for example, he claimed that Al Qaeda was taking over the movement. The provincial council stepped in and got Hayes to back down a bit. The major reason why protests in Anbar and other provinces have been able to sustain themselves for so long compared to previous ones is that it had support of three powerful groups. Those were political parties such as Speaker Nujafi’s Mutahidun and the Islamic Party, tribes likes Hayes and Abu Risha’s, and the clerical establishment. In recent months however, the activists have lost the backing of Mutahidun and many of the sheikhs as well. That was shown by Hayes’ tirade against the Ramadi site. This too might have played a role in Maliki’s threat against Anbar as well, because he could see that organizers did not have the strength that they had before, and might have even found a local ally in Hayes to shut down the protests.
These two events are further signs of the problems the Anbar activists are running into. They started in December 2012 after Maliki issued arrest warrants for some of then Finance Minister Rafi Issawi’s bodyguards who hails from Fallujah. They quickly spread to other provinces such as Ninewa, Diyala, Salahaddin, Baghdad, and Tamim. Since the 2013 provincial elections more and more of their supporters have abandoned them. Mutahidun has been scared by the resurgence of Al Qaeda in the governorate and would like to get on to ruling Anbar after its victory in this year’s vote, and that has led it to open talks with Maliki. Hayes and Abu Risha have joined it, and come out in support of Baghdad as well. They have all had a series of meetings with the prime minister, and gained a number of concessions over security and development. This led some organizers to threaten militancy by reviving the idea of forming a Pride and Dignity Army that would supposedly protect Sunnis from the government. Governor Diab responded by calling on the protesters to suspend their activities until after the 2014 national balloting for parliament, and condemned them forming any armed group. He was then criticized by the Islamic Party, activists, and some sheikhs. Without the support of notables in Anbar the demonstrations would not be able to maintain themselves. It is due to this backing that they have been able to build large tent cities and feed the thousands of people who have attended for the last twelve months. Now the pressure is beginning to mount on them not only from Baghdad, which has always been there, but from groups within Anbar itself, which could eventually mean the end of the demonstrations.
The Anbar protests were at the brink with threats coming from not only the central government but a local sheikh as well, but that was luckily averted. Now the question is what will come of the movement. They are slowly losing their allies with local voices now calling for their end. That doesn’t mean the protesters will go home any time soon, but the signs are growing that they have lost their luster. Mutahidun wants to focus upon security and governing. Anbar’s sheikhs have been divided since the end of the Awakening, and those rivalries are coming out again. That is the bigger picture that has emerged from the recent events, and bodes ill for the future of the demonstrations.
AIN, “Anbar PC supports postponing protests,” 12/9/13
- “Urgent…Security forces withdraw from Anbar protest yard,” 12/24/13
Ali, Ahmed, “Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Iraqi Anti-Government Protest Movement: Iraq Update #38,” Institute for the Study of War, 10/28/13
Buratha News, “Chairman of the Board of Anbar announces agreement with Hayes on calm,” 12/9/13
- “Hayes calls Anbar tribes to take up arms and fight al-Qaeda,” 12/23/13
Al-Forat, “Breaking News MoD arrives in Anbar,” 12/11/13
- “Nijaifi assures getting warranties from Maliki over not storming into demonstrations yards,” 12/25/13
Haider, Roa, “Fears of the outbreak of the situation with the threat of al-Maliki breaking up the Anbar protests,” Radio Free Iraq, 12/25/13
Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: Investigate Deadly Raid on Protest,” 4/24/13
Iraq Times, “Anbar warns of forming a tribal army and calling on residents to support the security forces,” 12/9/13
Al-Mada, “The governor of Anbar: fear of armed attacks unexpected .. The tribes claim to take the role to counter violence,” 12/15/13
- “Mufti blesses the formation of the “Army of Glory” and the governor of Anbar threatens to “break the back” of its members,” 12/10/13
- “Sulaiman Responds to Maliki: clans fight any target for sit-in yards and we are not attached to peg us your failure,” 12/23/13
- “Suleiman refuses to raise the sit-in tents and postpone the demands of the protesters until after the next parliamentary elections,” 12/11/13
- “Uniting surprising position of governor of Anbar on the resolution of the demonstrations and asked about plants to “deal with al-Maliki,”” 12/16/13
National Iraqi News Agency, “Ali al-Suleiman Sahwa forces must be taken out of Anbar,” 12/13/13
- “Anbar Governor rejects forming militia under whatever name,” 12/15/13
- “Maliki gives (short notice) seriously to empty the sit-in square and leave al-Qaeda elements,” 12/22/13
- “MP: The sit-in Squares do not follow any political party and cannot be exploited politically,” 12/18/13
- “Nijaifi continues his efforts to end the crisis between the Government, Ramadi sit-in square,” 12/25/13
- “Nujaifi calls for an urgent conference to discuss the repercussions of the recent events in Anbar and Salahuddin provinces,” 12/23/13
- “Ramadi sit in organizer expects military attack in the coming hours,” 12/24/13
- “Urgent…Two Army Brigades’ leaders, among the victims of Anbar bombing,” 12/21/13
New Sabah, “Hayes accept mediation to calm down,” 12/9/13
Radio Nawa, “Abu Risha confirms contesting the elections with a “united”,” 12/13/13
- “Hayes threatening to forcibly break up the sit-in squares,” 12/8/13
Al-Rayy, “Joint force surrounded the Square sit-in Ramadi after a deadline for protestors to withdraw Maliki,” 12/24/13
Rudaw, “Maliki Receives Warnings Against Cracking Down on Anbar Protesters,” 12/24/13
Shafaq News, “Anbar provincial council demands clans to raise protester’s tents,” 12/11/13
- “Anbar provincial council held an emergency meeting,” 12/24/13
- “Anbar Salvation council holds “leaders” responsible al-Jumaili’s death,” 12/1/13
- “Hayes: Our guns towards the protesters’ tents,” 12/22/13