The fighting in Anbar has not stopped Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki from going after the leaders of the country’s protest movement. One of the original causes of the conflict in the governorate was the arrest of Iraqi Islamic Party Parliamentarian Ahmed Alwani who was known for giving inflammatory speeches about Shiites at the Ramadi sit-in square. Now Baghdad has warrants out for Sheikh Ali Hatem Sulaiman and Sheikh Mohammed Taha Hamdun both prominent members of the demonstrations.
On December 28, a story ran in the Iraqi press that there were orders to detain Sheikh Ali Hatem Sulaiman. The security forces expected him to flee to Jordan, but he ended up in Irbil instead. Since joining the demonstrations in Anbar Sheikh Sulaiman has been a mercurial member. He started off giving mainstream speeches demanding the release of prisoners for example, but then quickly moved to more inflammatory remarks. He has accused Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of being a tool of Iran, demanded that he resign, and called for tribes to arm themselves and form a Pride and Dignity Army to protect the protest sites amongst other things. In December 2013 he rejected closing or postponing of the protests when Anbar Governor Ahmed Diab and the premier brought it up. Sulaiman has been seeking power in Anbar for years now. He originally joined the Awakening believing that was his path to success, but then split with it over how to enter politics. He at one time aligned himself with Maliki for the 2010 elections, but then quickly broke with him too until joining the protests at the end of 2012. He is an opportunistic sheikh who has constantly gone from one ally to another with little to show for it. Given his recent remarks about demonstrators and tribes arming themselves to protect themselves against Baghdad it was no surprise when Maliki issued an arrest warrant for him.
The attempt to take in Sheikh Mohammed Taha Hamdun is a completely different matter. Hamdun is from Salahaddin’s Samarra where he serves as one of the main spokesmen for the Six Provinces protest group that is made up of the major sit in sites in Anbar, Diyala, Tamim, Ninewa, and Salahaddin. He has given speeches about making the protest movement the legal representative of Sunni Arabs. He also announced the formation of the Popular Trend Movement in October, which was to act as a lobbying group for the demonstrator’s demands, and became one of its leaders. Hamdun was even picked up by the security forces in April 2013, but released in just a few hours. Unlike Sulaiman, most of Hamdun’s statements have been about staying within the political system to push for the protester's causes. This was exactly what the protesters were trying to do previously when they selected Anbar Governor Diab as their legitimate representative to negotiation with Baghdad. He was able to gain a number of concessions from Maliki that would have helped with development in Anbar, and released some prisoners, but then the demonstrators said Diab had failed in his negotiations. The prime minister put an end to that process when he had the Ramadi protest site closed down. Why the government would want to go after a leader like Hamdun who has advocated for making the protests into a political movement and working within the system is not known. If he were to be arrested it would probably lead to more demonstrations and complaints.
The fighting in Anbar is the direct result of Prime Minister Maliki’s miscalculation that he could end the protest movement, and now he is continuing with the same missteps by going after some of the demonstration leaders. Sheikh Sulaiman has consistently talked about taking on the government, arming the sit-in sites, and getting rid of Maliki, so it was not surprising that the premier would want to lock him up. Sheikh Hamdun is a different matter as he has been a mainstream voice within the activists. If he were detained it would probably inflame matters even more, and would be another mistake by the premier. Hopefully, Maliki will see that more arrests are not what is needed right now with Anbar in open rebellion, and these warrants will be thrown to the way side as others have been in the past.
Abbas, Mushreq, “Iraq’s Sunni Protesters Divided Over Government Negotiations,” Al-Monitor, 10/14/13
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
Al Gharbiya News, “In light of the escalation against the sit-in yards,” 1/2/14
Jawad, Haider Ali, “Anbar..Maliki issued an amnesty for wanted..And half of the Albu Alwan tribe organized into Awakening..Al Qaeda seized money from banks,” Buratha News 1/5/14
Al-Mada, “Suleiman refuses to raise the sit-in tents and postpone the demands of the protesters until after the next parliamentary elections,” 12/11/13
- “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
Al Masalah, “Suleiman escaped from Anbar to “Erbil,”” 1/3/14
Radio Nawa, “Anbar Operations Command expects to escape Ali Hatem al-Suleimani outside Iraq,” 12/28/13
Shafaq News, “Hayes: Our guns towards the protesters’ tents,” 12/22/13
Wicken, Stephen, “2013 Iraq Update #18: Maliki Continues to Target Protesters and Calls for Majority Rule,” Institute for the Study of War, 5/1/13
- “Maliki Eyes Third Term: 2013 Iraq Update #34,” Institute for the Study of War, 8/28/13