Today, the Iraqi forces are in the process of freeing the remaining areas of Anbar from the Islamic State. As the province has been liberated however, a series of political battles have emerged over control of the government. The main dispute is between some tribal sheikhs and the Sunni Endowment versus the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) that has run the governorate since 2005. No one is coming out looking good in the process, and the fight is not helping Anbar that is facing a humanitarian crisis.
The first battle over Anbar’s governance involved the Sunni Endowment and the Islamic Party competing to get people to return to Ramadi even though the city was unsafe and full of unexploded ordinance. At the start of February 2016 Friday prayers were given at the Grand Mosque for the first time since the city was freed, and a call was made for the displaced to come back. Prime Minister Haidar Abadi had appointed the head of the Sunni Endowment the chairman of returns, so this announcement held weight in Anbar. This was made despite local officials saying that Ramadi would not be cleared of IEDs for 2-6 months at a minimum. Despite that people listened to the Sunni Endowment and began returning in droves. That got the politicians to begin saying that the displaced should come back in the city as well. The result was that dozens of people were killed and wounded by bombs left behind by the Islamic State. That brought out the rivalry between the Islamic Party and the Endowment into the open as the former accused the latter of being responsible for the casualties. The head of he Sunni Endowment responded with the ridiculous allegation that the Islamic Party was planting IEDs in the city to undermine his work as returns chairman. That seemed to end it between the two with the Sunni Endowment eventually backing down. The fact that over 100 people were reportedly hurt and killed in the process showed the crass nature of the conflict.
The next phase of the battle was over Governor Suhaib al-Rawi with tribal sheikhs and members of the Anbar council attempting to dismiss him. This started with Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha and members of the Anbar council calling itself the Reform bloc accusing the governor of financial mismanagement and not assisting the province’s displaced. The Sunni Endowment supported the opposition, while the governor had his Islamic Party as well as the Solution bloc led by Jamal Karbouli, a longtime Sunni leader in parliament. To stave off the criticism in mid-June the IIP and the Solution bloc asked parliament to dissolve the council and hold early elections in Anbar. The opposition struck back by voting out Governor Rawi on June 28. Rawi appealed his case to the courts and won on July 27, and then said he would get the council dismissed to be rid of his opponents. Even if that doesn’t happen Governor Rawi has already won by staying in office. On the other hand, getting rid of the council and electing a new one won’t happen as there are so many displaced from the province voting is impossible right now. That means the back and forth between the two will continue for the foreseeable future as neither side is happy.
Unhappiness with the Islamic Party is nothing knew in Anbar. It came to power in 2005 by simply running for office as most of the other parties boycotted the provincial elections that year because they were opposed to the U.S. occupation and the new Iraq. It has run the governorate ever since. In 2006 it was challenged by the Awakening, which was made up of rural sheikhs mostly from the Ramadi area who resented the Islamic Party’s reign. Later the party joined the protest movement that started in 2012 against Prime Minister Maliki and the central government, but then flipped to Baghdad, which angered many. Now this latest dispute is emerging as Anbar is being freed from the Islamic State. Rival parties are trying to pin the woes of the province on the Islamic Party, but so far they have lost. Calling for people to return to Ramadi when it wasn't safe backfired, and the attempt to get rid of the governor was overturned. That leaves the two sides deadlocked and waiting for the next controversy they can pounce on to try to undo the other. This comes at the worst of time as both Fallujah and the central government are broke leaving no money to help the displaced or rebuild any of the areas that are being freed from the militants. Provincial elections are not set to take place until next year, and in Anbar’s case may be delayed if a majority of the internal refugees are still not back in their homes. That leaves months for this rivalry to play out.
AIN, “Anbar governor’s bloc: Parliament will vote next week to solve the provincial council,” 7/28/16
Buratha News, “Postponement of the appeal of the dismissal of the governor of Anbar province,” 7/25/16
Iraq News Network, “Tribal Council accuses the governor of Anbar of leading schemes to obstruct the return of displaced persons,” 7/21/16
Kalin, Stephen, “Islamic State mines kill dozens of civilians returning to Ramadi,” Reuters, 4/22/16
Al Mada, “Administrative Court rejects the decision to dismiss the governor of Anbar,” 7/28/16
- “Anbar Council facing imminent dissolution due to threats between the Islamic Party and Awakening,” 6/21/16
- “Anbar governor announces the formation of a committee to investigate the accusations against Al-Hmam and invites him to present evidence,” 4/23/16
- “Anbar tribes demanding “sack corrupt” in government,” 7/6/16
- “Break the siege on Haditha lowers prices and tempts the displaced to return..and the army surrounds Fallujah,” 5/12/16
- “Clearing mines in Ramadi needs two months .. And politics hinder freeing Garma,” 3/17/16
- “Al-Hmam accuse Daash leaders of being in Ramadi and rushing to return 19 thousand families,” 4/26/16
- “Mutual accusations between the Islamic Party and Sunni Endowment regarding booby-trapped homes in Ramadi,” 4/23/16
- “Reform bloc in Anbar: Our members are subject to threats and blackmail,” 7/16/16
- “Second official calls on Al-Hmam to provide evidence of booby trapping homes,” 4/27/16
New Sabah, “For the first time after the liberation of Ramadi..Friday prayers at Great Mosque,” 2/5/16
Reuters, “Iraqi military freezes civilians’ return to Ramadi over mine deaths,” 4/24/16
Saadoun Mustafa, “Will conflict continue as Iraq’s Sunni areas are liberated from IS?” Al Monitor, 7/14/16
Sattar, Omar, “What’s next for Iraq’s Anbar after liberation from IS,” Al Monitor, 6/30/16
Sotaliraq, “Anbar provincial council majority voted out Governor Suhaib al-Rawi,” 6/28/16
- “Ramadi needs six months to remove improvised explosives devices and war waste in city,” 3/20/16