Monday, September 8, 2014

Between A Rock And A Hard Place Interview With Anbar Governor Ahmed Dulaimi

In 2013 Ahmed Khalaf al-Dulaimi was elected Anbar’s new governor. His victory was largely due to his support for the protest movement. That did not adhere him to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who hit him with an arrest warrant. The two then tried to reconcile with a series of negotiations over the demonstrations, which cost the governor some local support. Then in December 2013 the premier shut down the Ramadi protest site, which immediately led to open fighting by anti-government tribes, insurgent groups, and the Islamic State against the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and pro-Baghdad sheikhs. Since then more than half of Anbar has fallen to the militants. Today, the governor finds himself in a difficult position trying to work with locals to counter the insurgent threat, while attempting to get concessions from Baghdad to satisfy his constituency. Diane Maye Associate Dean of Terrorism and Counterterrorism Studies at Henley-Putnam University facilitated this interview with Governor Dulaimi. The governor can be followed on Twitter at @Ahmed_Alduliami.

Anbar Governor Dulaimi (Al Shorfa)

1. For almost two years you and the Anbar provincial council have held talks with Baghdad trying to at first meet some of the demands of the protesters and then to try to quell the fighting there. None of these seemed to be successful. What have been the main roadblocks in these talks?

To start with, it is a huge mistake believing there is a relationship between removing tents from Itisam Square and ISIS. There was a minor reaction from some parties, but ISIS doesn't believe in peaceful demonstrations or protests. ISIS was thinking about invading the Sunni areas, and they found that Itisam Square provides substantial motivation.

Lets go back to the question; there were a lot of obstacles surrounding the government's response to the people's request. One obstacle is political ignorance in all the political parties; we were advising all the political parties involved, as well as the government, to negotiate. There were just too many political obstacles in this process. Sunni parties speculated on the requests of the people in order to gain political leverage, as well as put Premier al-Maliki in an embarrassing political situation. 

2. Open fighting began in Anbar long before the insurgent summer offensive and the fall of Mosul. The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and tribes have held constant operations in the same areas over and over such as Saqlawiya, southern Ramadi, areas outside of Fallujah, etc. Why have there been so many operations in the same areas over and over again? Why can’t the ISF and tribes hold these areas?

With the exception of the SWAT and anti-terrorism squads, the Iraqi Army is facing a huge problem.  They basically have little practice or training in facing this kind of warfare; they have been sitting around for several years watching checkpoints. As a result, they lost their readiness.  Adding to this, the corruption amongst high ranking officers and commanders has reduced the Army to a hollow cylinder: solid outside and empty inside. This is said with all due respect for the sacrifices that honest officers and soldiers have offered to Anbar. We will always be indebted to them. The Iraqi Army's weak status with regards to their equipment and mobilization is another one of the reasons they broke in front of the ISIS wave in Mosul. The tribes are defending their land, simply like a farmer defending his land from an invader. They have no strategy or vision on how to hold the ground, etc.

3. After the fall of Mosul in June 2014 the ISF suddenly withdrew from the Syrian border area in Anbar calling it a strategic retreat allowing the insurgents to take over. What happened there?

The shock of losing Mosul is a great psychological jolt to the Iraqi Army -- all Brigades and Divisions. Adding to this, you have the retreat of the Army from the Syrian borders, as well as logistical hurdles such as the resupply of munitions, food, etc. On the other hand, many would argue that the Brigades retreated from the borders to defend Haditha, and they will continue to defend Haditha until they have a chance to return to the border.

4. Several sheikhs and tribes have been fighting the insurgency in Anbar such as Abu Risha, the Hayes brothers, the Albu Nimr. Recently there was a meeting of several of these tribes calling for government support. The Interior and Defense Ministry said that it would provide support for several thousand local fighters. Are you and the sheikhs happy with a new Baghdad backed Sahwa or do you want jobs directly within the ISF, and what would be the difference?

I think that the "Sahwa" and the "Sons of Iraq" programs were a big fiasco; mainly this was due to government corruption. We do not have any intention to repeat the mistakes we made in the past.  What we desire is to let the "Sons of Anbar" be apart of the security apparatus by enlisting them directly in the Iraqi Security Forces. This would be under the umbrella of the law, in order to build a modern, safe, and secure province.

5. For several weeks the Islamic State has laid siege to Haditha, which has successfully held out against their attacks. Can you provide some details about what the situation is like there?

In Haditha, the men are hard at work resisting and defending ISIS's advances, and we have the most courageous soldiers defending the city.  A major change is on the horizon.

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