Monday, December 30, 2013

Iraq’s PM Maliki Goes From Offensive Against Al Qaeda To Crackdown On Anbar Protestors

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki just turned a military tragedy, which rallied much of the country behind the government, into a campaign against the Anbar protest movement. In the middle of December 2013 Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) set up an elaborate trap, which resulted in the death of much of the leadership of the Army’s 7th Division. Baghdad then launched a massive military campaign in Anbar that almost all parties and much of the public supported. In the midst of this offensive however, the prime minister decided to go after the Anbar demonstrators by claiming that they were behind the terrorists, and then ordered the detention of Parliamentarian Ahmed Alwani of the Iraqi Islamic Party who was one of their leaders. The lawmaker was captured, but not before a shoot out that resulted in several deaths and brought out hundreds of people into the streets in Anbar in support of him. Now the government is demanding that the protest sites close. In doing so, Maliki turned a national moment into a personal vendetta against his opponents.

In the middle of December 2013 Al Qaeda set a trap for the army, which turned into a rallying point for much of Iraq. On December 16, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) started a new operation in Anbar. On December 21, the Army’s 7th Division received news that an AQI camp had been discovered in Adham along the Ninewa border. The leadership of the division went to investigate the site believing that it was abandoned, but in fact it was a trap set by the Islamists with booby traps and suicide bombers. The result was that the 7th Division Commander General Mohammed Karawi, his assistant General Mohammed Nauman, and the heads of the 27th and 29th Brigades were all killed. In response, Baghdad immediately ordered a massive campaign against AQI. Most of the political class came out in support of the government, and there were rallies in major cities backing the security forces as well. Several tribes in Anbar also rallied behind the ISF and said they were going to help with the new security crackdown. Sheikh Mohammed al-Hayes for example called on all the sheikhs in Anbar to fight AQI during a meeting in Ramadi, and said that the soldiers dying against the terrorists were mostly native Anbaris. Amidst all of the divisions and sectarian tensions this was a rare moment in Iraq. In recent history there have been few times where Iraqis have rallied behind the flag. The deaths of the officers provided one of those events where both the elite and common people came out to express their support for the security forces and the fight against Al Qaeda.

Rallies in Babel and Karbala in support of the security crackdown in Anbar (Al-Mada)

In the midst of this nationalist sentiment Maliki decided to destroy the mood and follow his own political agenda. First, the prime minister gave a television interview where he claimed that the Anbar protest sites were harboring Al Qaeda leaders. After talks with local and national politicians the premier seemed to back down, but he didn’t. On December 27 he said that day’s Friday’s prayers were the last for the sit-in sites since they were areas of sedition and threatened to burn down their tents. The next day he ordered the arrest of parliamentarian Ahmed Alwani from the Iraqi Islamic Party who was one of the leaders of the activists. He had an outstanding warrant out for him since September for his sectarian verbal attacks upon Shiites during the rallies. In one speech for instance he said that the followers of Iran were in the country, meaning Shiites, and that they should be beheaded without mercy. The raid on his house led to an hour-long gunfight that ended up killing Alwani’s brother and five of his guards. Politicians from all different parties condemned the move saying that it only inflamed tensions. In Anbar, there were immediate protests in Fallujah and Ramadi in support of Alwani, his clan the Albu Alwan gave the government 12 hours to release him or face the consequences, the demonstrators’ Pride and Dignity Army was deployed to the demonstration sites, and they promised to fight anyone that used force against them. At the same time the ISF put armored vehicles around the protest areas, and the security forces stopped an investigative committee from parliament who wanted to look into Alwani’s arrest from entering the province. Acting Defense Minister Sadoun Dulaimi went on to say that Alwani would be released if the protests were ended, turning the lawmaker into a virtual hostage. Once again, local officials such as Anbar Governor Ahmed Diab, the provincial council, and sheikhs tried to mediate between the central government and Anbaris. Beforehand Maliki was in talks with Anbar politicians and sheikhs to negotiate an end to the demonstrations. Then when the 7th Division officers were killed he went back to making threats and demands against the sit-ins. This has been the prime minister’s long time modus operandi to offer concessions on the one hand, and then use the stick to intimidate people. The premier could not have picked a worse time however to go after his opponents, because it destroyed the nationalist feelings that were spreading throughout the country.

MP Alwani giving a speech at the Ramadi protest site (Al-Mada)

Rallies in support of Alwani in Anbar, and armed checkpoints set up in Ramadi
March in Ramadi Dec. 28, 2013 (AFP)

Rally in Fallujah Dec. 28, 2013 (Mohammed Jalil)

Fallujah (Mohammed Jalil)

Fallujah (Mohammed Jalil)
People gathering before a march in Ramadi near Alwani's home as gunmen watch guard Dec. 29, 2013 (AFP)



Armed checkpoint in Ramadi Dec. 29, 2013 (Mohammed Jalil)

(Mohammed Jalil)

(Mohammed Jalil)

In one swift move Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wrecked the chance to unify much of Iraq against Al Qaeda, so that he could take on the Anbar protest movement. The death of the army generals from the 7th Division was a perfect opportunity to reverse the worsening security situation by getting the public behind the government. With popular backing there would have been more intelligence coming in, and less passive support for the insurgency. Instead, Maliki instantly turned to the sit-ins, and restarted his feud with them, which he had just resolved a few days before, and was in the process of negotiating an end to. The prime minister could not pass up the chance to use the military campaign in Anbar to go after the demonstrators as well. By doing so he re-ignited tensions in the province, and probably gave the activists renewed life, just when it looked like they were losing steam with the loss of their political and tribal allies. Now there’s talk of war in the governorate, and that can only end badly for all involved. Any use of force by the ISF would only turn more people towards militancy, because it would just be the latest example of Baghdad not caring about them and the failure of national politics to solve anything. There could not be a better example of the premier’s short-term thinking. He like the rest of the elite only thinks about his own political future, and the country constantly suffers as a result. Violence is already increasing in Anbar as Al Qaeda is trying to re-establish itself there. Now things are on the verge of getting much worse if Maliki forces the matter with the demonstrators. Even if he walks away from the edge it would still be bad, because the attempt to negotiate an end to the protests will be over as well. The prime minister’s inability to think big picture has thus undermined his own work, and now things are much worse in Anbar when they were already heading in the wrong direction.


Anbar officials claim they worked out a deal with Defense Minister Dulaimi to take down the Ramadi protest site, which was done by local police today, December 30. This was said to be done peacefully, but fighting broke out in Ramadi and Fallujah with 10 dead, 7 gunmen and 3 police, and 43 wounded, 29 gunmen and 14 soldiers, and a mosque in Ramadi was head calling people to jihad against the government forces. Politically the Iraqi National Movement is threatening a boycott of government in protest.

Police vehicle set on fire near Ramadi sit-ins (AFP)


Agence France Presse, “Deadly clashes as Iraq forces demolish Sunni protest camp,” 12/30/13
- “Iraq forces destroy militant camps in Anbar: spokesman,” 12/23/13

AIN, “Breaking news…Dulaimi tribes join security forces in fighting Qaeda,” 12/23/13
- “Iraqi Navy Forces participates in Anbar military operations,” 12/25/13
- “Military operations launched in 4 Iraqi southern provinces,” 12/23/13
- “Urgent…MoD : Alwani’s release depends on lifting tents on protest yard in Anbar,” 12/29/13

BBC, “Bomb attack kills officers in Iraq’s Anbar province,” 12/21/13
- “Ten die as Iraq security forces dismantle Sunni camp,” 12/30/13

Buratha News, “Blast toll rises from bomber western Anbar to 24 martyrs, including the commander of the seventh division and a number of officers,” 12/21/13
- “Hayes calls Anbar tribes to take up arms and fight al-Qaeda,” 12/23/13
- “Hayes calls for the government to intervene to end the sit-ins,” 12/26/13

Al Forat, “Air forces attack terrorist shelters, 4 WD cars destroyed in Anbar desert,” 12/22/13
- “Clashes erupted near al-Asad Air force base in Anbar,” 12/21/13

Ghazi, Yasir and Arango, Tim, “Deadly Shootout and Arrest in Iraq Set Off Sunni Protests,” New York Times, 12/28/13

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

Independent Press Agency, “Dolly large forces drove from Baghdad to al-Assad military base west of Ramadi,” 12/23/13
- “Large forces drove from Baghdad to al-Assad military base west of Ramadi,” 12/23/13

Al-Mada, “Civic organizations in Karbala: Our military is fighting a battle on behalf of the world against al Qaeda in Anbar and must be chased,” 12/28/13
- “Contradictory signals from al-Maliki and al-Dulaimi on Anbar sit-ins,” 12/26/13
- “Deputies: Anbar military operations late .. And “Daash” to withdraw within cities,” 12/26/13
-“Dozens of people from the tribes of Fallujah threaten violating curfew and helicopters flying flow overhead,” 12/29/13
- “Hayes: Ramadi sit-in square has become the headquarters for Al Qaeda and we will participate in clearing it of its most wanted,” 12/27/13
- “Hundreds in Babylon organize pause in solidarity with the campaign to eradicate Al Qaeda and stress the Iraqi army,” 12/27/13
- “MP Alwani clan threaten the government to “stand firm” if you do not release him within 12 hours,” 12/28/13
- “Mutlaq announce his refusal of the timing of the military operation in Anbar if the goal was electoral gain,” 12/28/13
- “Politicians and MPs: we disagree with al-Alwani and his arrest will set a dangerous precedent with dire consequences on the political process,” 12/28/13
- “Saadi accused the government of “abuse” with the activities of the year and calls for an “emergency” meeting in Anbar to consider the situation,” 12/28/13
- “Sadr and Hakim warn of “another Hawija” and call for a peaceful solution instead of storming Ramadi sit-in Square,” 12/28/13
- “A source reveals about the transfer of Ahmed al-Alwani to the Green Zone,” 12/28/13
- “United: the arrest of al-Alwani, giving priority to the logic of extremism and violence, and we hope not to be a gift for a neighbor,” 12/28/13

Naji, Jamal, “Maliki targets protesters as Anbar security crisis deepens,” Iraq Oil Report, 12/28/13

National Iraqi News Agency, “2 Qaeda commanders killed in western Anbar,” 12/21/13
- “Anbar Governor: Peaceful protests infuriates extremists in Iraq,” 12/27/13
- “Anbar Governor says that there are intense contacts with Baghdad to release Alwani,” 12/28/13
- “Anbar Governor: Threats come from Anbar desert not sit-in squares,” 12/26/13
- “Assistant General Chief of Staff leads a campaign to clean Anbar’s western desert from Qaeda elements,” 12/21/13
- “BREAKING NEWS More than 30 tanks taking position near Ramadi sit-in square,” 12/28/13
- “Chairman of Anbar tribes council: Anbar’s tribes support army to hunt down al-Qaeda,” 12/24/13
- “Gathering and demonstration in Fallujah and Ramadi to denounce the arrest of al-Alwani,” 12/28/13
- “Gunman killed, another wounded, 3 soldiers wounded in western Anbar,” 12/21/13
- “Head of Anbar council: Four demands to defuse the crisis in Anbar,” 12/29/13
- “Iraqiya coalition hold this evening a thoroughly meeting to announce its final stand toward the current events in Anbar,” 12/30/13
- “Maliki gives (short notice) seriously to empty the sit-in square and leave al-Qaeda elements,” 12/22/13
- “Maliki threatens to burned tents of sit-ins of Anbar,” 12/27/13
- “Militants (Pride Army) deployed near Ramadi Square sit-in in anticipation of the security forces,” 12/28/13
- “Military operations in Anbar will extend to Salahuddin,” 12/26/13
- “Minister of Defense gives two days to lift the sit-in’ tents,” 12/29/13
- “Urgent…Two Army Brigades’ leaders, among the victims of Anbar bombing,” 12/21/13

Al-Qaisi, Mohammed, “Iraq to tighten security on Syria border,” Al-Shorfa, 12/18/13

Radio Nawa, “Anbar Operations Command expects to escape Ali Hatem al-Suleimani outside Iraq,” 12/28/13
- “Awakening confirms agreement to change the location of the sit in yards away from the highway,” 12/27/13
- “Jaafari reviews with Najafi and Abu Risha ways to end the tension in the province of Anbar,” 12/28/13

Al Rayy, “Ghaidan: operations in Anbar desert destroyed the majority of al-Qaeda camps and clans lifting tents,” 12/29/13
- “Tribes threaten to storm the sit-in yard to release the security elements that belong to them,” 12/28/13

Salaheddin, Sinan, “7 killed as Iraqi troops arrest Sunni lawmaker,” 12/28/13
- “Iraqi police dismantle Sunni protest in west,” Associated Press, 12/30/13

Shafaq News, “Anbar: Al-Rifai and Saadi agreed to transfer sit-in Square,” 12/29/13
- “Anbar reveals contacts with al-Dulaimi to solve Sunni MP crisis,” 12/29/13
- “Anbar Tribes Council: there is a chance to end the tension in the province,” 12/29/13
- “Hayes: The majority of the killed in Horan Valley are from Anbar people,” 12/23/13

Yasin, Ali, “The military’s “New Morning”: Russian arms talk helped to destroy their camps,” New Sabah, 12/25/13

Al-Zubaidi, Ahmed, “A local official: to reach an agreement to end the sit-ins,” Radio Free Iraq, 12/29/13

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This is an excellent up to date account of events in Anbar Joel. The Anbaris are cutting the main roads from the ISF, similar action in Nenawa and Salaheddin, the ISF could lose heavily due to long supply lines and motivation of the locals who are defending their home turf. Meanwhile there is an Iranian delegation in Baghdad which may mean possible direct support if the worse comes to the worst.