Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Anbar Awakening Splits

As Iraq’s provincial elections approached it was widely believed that the Anbar tribes would unseat the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) from power. The IIP was the only major Sunni party to take part in the provincial balloting back in 2005, and took all of the seats in Anbar as a result. When the province’s tribes began turning on Al Qaeda in Iraq later that year, and became known as the Anbar Awakening it was assumed they would eventually take over the province. Now the tribal groups have split, making the outcome of the January 2009 elections unpredictable.

The Anbar tribes were always divided between a variety of leaders and groups. Sheikh Abdl Sattar Abu Risha founded the Anbar Salvation Council in September 2006. He successfully organized 41 of the provinces tribes behind him to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq. In September 2007 the Islamists assassinated him. His death led to the first major split amongst the Anbaris. Sattar’s brother Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha formed the Awakening Conference of Iraq, while Sheikh Ali Hatem al-Suleiman of the al-Anbar Tribal Council and Sheikh Hameed Farhan al-Hayes formed the National Front for the Salvation of Iraq. By June 2008 the two groups had come together under the umbrella of the Al-Anbar Salvation Council expressly to run in the upcoming elections.

This alliance has now broken apart due to the maneuverings of the Islamic Party. Seeing their demise on the horizon, the IIP successfully played a divide and conquer strategy. They convinced Sheikh Abu Risha and his Awakening Conference to join them in the National Gathering of Independents. In October 2008, the Islamic Party also formed the Intellectuals and Tribes for Development that includes the Gathering of Anbar’s Tribal Leaders and Intellectuals, Iraq’s People’s Conference, and the Independent Tribal National Gathering. Abu Risha’s defection led 40 tribal leaders to walk out of his group and join al-Suleiman and al-Hayes. They in turn formed a rival coalition, the Iraq’s Tribes List, which is made up of Risha’s original group the Anbar Salvation Council, the Ambition Party, and Hayes’ and Suleiman’s National Front for the Salvation of Iraq. Sheikh Suleiman is also trying to reach out to Baghdad for support. He formed a Tribal Support Council aligned with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The divisions amongst the tribes could complicate the voting in January. A member of Iraq’s Election Commission said that while a large number of people registered to vote, he feared a low turnout. He told the Berlin and Amman based on-line weekly Niqash that many people don’t trust the Islamic Party because of their poor rule of Anbar, but also don’t believe in the tribes because they are divided, and always bicker with each other. He continued that voters couldn’t tell one tribal group from another, and this confusion will lead them to select none of them as a result.

Because of these divisions, there might not be a clear winner come January in Anbar. The Tribes List and the Islamic Party coalition will probably split the vote. That will likely mean a power sharing deal between two bitter rivals. Neither side trusts nor respects the other, so this will be a real test. The Islamic Party has not done a god job running the province. In 2007 it only spent 3.7% of its budget. By October 2008 they had improved to 42%. There is also widespread poverty with six of the province’s seven districts having 25-50% of the population living in the poorest of six wealth groups according to the United Nations’ World Food Program, and the seventh with 50-75% in poverty. With divided rule, and budget cuts expected, it’s unlikely that the province will do any better in the immediate future.

For more on Anbar see:

Iraqi Weekly Interviews Sheikh Ali Hatem
Finding A Historical Precedent For The Sons Of Iraq, But Not A Solution
A More Complicated Picture of Iraq’s Tribes
Anbar Under Iraqi Control, But Political Disputes Continue
Anbar Dispute Between Sunnnis Growing
The Demise, But Not Death of Al Qaeda In Iraq

Ali, Fadhil, “Sunni Rivalries in al-Anbar Province Threaten Iraq’s Security,” Terrorism Focus, Jamestown Foundation, 3/11/08

Fayad, Ma’ad, “Al-Anbar Salvation Council to Run in Parliamentary Elections,” Asharq Al-Awsat, 9/21/08

Hamid, Nirmeen, “anbar’s Islamic party and tribes vie for power,” Niqash, 12/12/08
- “Political Fight Threatens Anbar Peace,” Niqash, 11/20/08

Lynch, Marc, “Iraqi Sunnis after the Awakening,” Abu Aardvark Blog, 6/20/08

Parker, Ned, “Iraq’s Nouri Maliki may gain power with U.S. security agreement,” Los Angeles Times, 11/24/08

Partlow, Joshua, Tyson, Ann Scott and Wright, Robin, “Bomb Kills a Key Sunni Ally of U.S.,” Washington Post, 9/14/07

Pitman, Todd, “Sunni Sheiks Join Fight Vs. Insurgency,” Associated Press, 3/25/07

Raghavan, Sudarsan, “A New Breed Grabs Reins in Anbar,” Washington Post, 10/21/08

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly report to the United States Congress,” 10/30/08

World Food Programme, “Comprehensive Food Security And Vulnerability Analysis In Iraq,” November 2008

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