Today Iraq’s Anbar province is as divided as ever. The provincial government and some tribes have come out in support of Baghdad against the insurgency, some tribes oppose both the central government and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), some sheikhs have joined the revived insurgency, and ISIS is trying to take advantage of the entire situation. This is just the latest manifestation of the deep schisms that have existed within Anbar since the 2003 invasion. After the fall of the former regime, the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) and the tribes struggled for power. The story of former Governor Mamoun Sami Rasheed Alwani who was in office from 2005-2009, and later served on the provincial council from 2011-2012 showed the constant rivalry between the tribes and IIP for control of Anbar.
Gov Alwani giving a speech in Ramadi 2008 (DIVIDS)
After the American invasion Anbar quickly deteriorated. At first, there were no real problems, and the U.S. hardly paid attention to the governorate. By 2004 however it became a center for the insurgency and Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). That was typified by the two battles for Fallujah that occurred that year. Governor Alwani blamed a number of factors for this situation. First, AQI had lots of money, which it used to spread its influence, and buy off tribes. Second, the U.S. left the borders open, which allowed foreign fighters to flow into the province. Third, the Americans didn’t understand Anbar, and ended up neglecting it as a result. Militants filled the resulting vacuum making Anbar a center for its activities.
Governor Alwani claimed that he attempted to rectify the situation by bringing together the three major groups in the province, the local government, the tribes, and the U.S. military. In January 2005 local elections were held in Iraq. The vast majority of Sunnis boycotted, and there was only a 2% voter turnout in Anbar. The Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) won the election, and Alwani was picked to by the head of the council, and eventually the governor in May. (1) Since so few people participated in the balloting the government lacked legitimacy, and people were afraid to work with it due to the insurgency. The violence eventually led most of the council to move to Baghdad for protection, so that it was physically removed from the governorate as well. The tribes in Anbar were not strong either. Many did not want to work with the government or the Americans, and many of the prominent sheikhs were in Jordan either to escape the invasion or the insurgency. The majority of tribes would eventually join the insurgency because they opposed the U.S. and the empowerment of Shiite and Kurdish parties in Baghdad. Finally there was the U.S. army and marines that didn’t understand the tribes, and were often more interested in protecting themselves. Governor Alwani went to the Americans, and tried to get them to help with governance and mediate between them and some of the tribes. This had few results as the militants had the upper hand. Not only that but Alwani was more interested in solidifying the IIP’s control over the province. It didn’t have the base to accomplish that, and the U.S. failure to secure the province meant that it couldn’t expand its support either.
When the Anbar Awakening was formed in 2006 Governor Alwani tried to claim partial responsibility for its success. He said that the Awakening was the culmination of his plan to bring together the government, tribes, and Americans. He then pushed for the U.S. to use the tribes to recruit for the local police. When the majority of the sheikhs decided to turn on the insurgency they provided many of their fighters for the security forces. That included the Albu Issa and Albu Alwan in Fallujah, the Jumali, Halabsa, Albu Aetha, Albu Alwan in Garma, the Albu Alwan, Albu Assaf, Albu Soda, and Albu Jaber in Ramadi, the Albu Nimr in Hit, the Albu Abed in Baghdadi, the Jahaifa and Mola in Haditha, and the Albu Mahal in Qaim. Eventually this cooperation brought security to the province, and Alwani wanted to take credit for that. He in fact had little to do with the Awakening, and many of its members actively opposed him and the Islamic Party.
General Tariq Dulaimi the provincial police chief at the time and Sheikh Ali Hatem Sulaiman of the Awakening for example were both very critical of Alwani’s tenure. General Dulaimi believed that Alwani was an early supporter of the insurgency, and saw the Awakening sheikhs as rivals. The general claimed that Alwani refused to publicly come out against Al Qaeda, and supported what he called the honorable resistance to the occupation. Later, when the Awakening was formed, the general said that the governor was jealous, because it received the support of not only the Americans, but eventually Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as well. Finally Dulaimi believed that Alwani was more interested in having the Islamic Party take over the provincial police and replace him rather than bring in the tribal forces. The dispute between Alwani and the IIP and the Awakening was actually more heated. The Awakening sheikhs wanted the Islamic Party to step down so that they could assume power. Some like Sheikh Ali Hatem Sulaiman even threatened to attack the party if it didn’t leave office. The U.S. marines worked out a power sharing deal between the two to head off the conflict. When the next elections rolled around in 2009, some tribal leaders were still opposed to the IIP, but Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha ended up making a deal with them, which was the start of the coming apart of the Awakening. The accounts of General Dulaimi and Sheikh Sulaiman contradict Governor Alwani’s portrayal of himself as being at the center of the transformation of Anbar. Instead they have him at least giving verbal support to the insurgency, and being an opponent to the Awakening, because it threatened his political power. He would have preferred if he was at the focal point of the tribes, the government, and the Americans, but the Awakening sheikhs took that away from him.
After the 2009 elections Alwani left office, but returned for a short period in 2011. In 2009 there was a new round of balloting in Anbar and Alwani was voted out. In September 2011 he was elected back into the government as a council member, only to be kicked out in May 2012 when he was charged with corruption. IIP and Iraqi National Movement member Parliamentarian Ahmed Alwani came to his rescue saying that the Legal Office of parliament stopped the proceedings against him, and said that he could stay on the council. Baghdad had no authority over the matter however, and the decision of the council stood. Members of the council brought up Alwani’s time as governor, and wanted to investigate his management of the province and his use of funds. That showed that some still held grudges against the time the IIP ran Anbar.
Governor Alwani and the Islamic Party might have held official authority over Anbar from 2005-2009, but they had little actual say in the province. They were elected by only a tiny fraction of the governorate. Once the insurgency got going, most of its members left Anbar for their own personal safety. Alwani liked to say that he had a role in turning things around, and worked with the Americans and tribes, but he actually opposed the tribal revolt, and many of the sheikhs wanted him and his party out of office. Later, when the protests started in Anbar in December 2013, the IIP jumped on its bandwagon, and became one of its main political supporters. Islamic Party members like MP Alwani emerged as some of the main speakers at the Friday prayers in Ramadi. Now with the province up in arms, many of the militant groups have called the IIP sell outs once again putting it on the outside looking in rather than having the popular standing that it has always sought in Anbar.
1. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/11
AIN, “Alwani: Political aims behind dismissing head of Anbar PC,” 5/14/12
- “Breaking News…Anbar PC votes to dismiss its Head,” 5/13/12
- “Harb: Speaker could not cancel Anbar PC decision over dismissing its Head,” 5/18/12
- “URGENT…..Parliament cancels decision of dismissing head of Anbar PC,” 5/17/12
Daragahi, Borzou, “Shiite alliance appears to hold slight majority in new assembly,” San Francisco Chronicle, 2/14/05
Al-Mada, “Anbar Council ousts president on charges of mismanagement,” 5/14/12
McWilliams, Chief Warrant Officer-4 Timothy, and Wheeler, Lieutenant Colonel Kurtis, ed., Al-Anbar Awakening Volume II, Iraqi Perspectives, From Insurgency to Counterinsurgency in Iraq, 2004-2009, Virginia: Marine Corps University, 2009
Msarbat, Anwar, “Anbar council chairman sacked,” AK News, 5/14/12
Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/11