Thursday, April 30, 2009

Anbar’s Forgotten Sheikh

Out of the Anbar Awakening emerged three young and ambitious tribal sheikhs, each of which wanted both provincial and national power. One was Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, the brother of the slain founder of the Anbar Salvation Council. The second was Sheikh Hameed al-Hayes who split from the Salvation Council to join with the third figure Grand Sheikh Ali Hatem al-Sulaiman. He was the head of the Dulaim tribe, one of the largest in the country. Sulaiman founded the Al-Anbar Tribal Council. All three once worked together, but then went their own separate paths looking to make a name for themselves. All of them worked with the Americans to fight the insurgency, reached out to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to establish themselves as Sunni leaders, and then each formed his own political party to run in the January 2009 provincial elections. Abu Risha and Hayes were victorious, while Sulaiman failed to gain a single seat on Anbar’s provincial council. Now the Sheikh is talking about leading a nationwide tribal revolt against the Maliki government. This seems more an effort to regain face however, as Sulaiman probably feels like the forgotten Sheikh of Anbar.

In April 2009, Sheikh Sulaiman told the Los Angeles Times that he was organizing a national tribal meeting. He said he wanted to organize tribes from across the country to make demands on the government. He didn’t say what they were, but threatened an uprising against Maliki if they were not met. Sulaiman and his former partner Sheikh Hayes were famous for making such inflammatory statements in the past, but nothing ever came of them. It was simply a way to make a name for themselves. That is probably what Sulaiman is doing now.

Sheikh Sulaiman was from the Dulaim tribe, the largest in Anbar, and one of the most prominent in Iraq. His grandfather was the most powerful sheikh in Anbar, and he has strived to attain that position himself. He, along with Sheikh Hayes formed the al-Anbar Tribal Council as a breakaway group from Abu Risha’s Anbar Salvation Council. They were famous for threatening their opponents. In February 2008 for example, the two sheikhs told the Iraqi Islamic Party who controlled Anbar’s provincial council that they had 30 days to leave or they would be attacked. At the same time, he showed a willingness to work with Baghdad, forming a Tribal Support Council in Anbar that were meant to back-up Maliki.

All three sheikhs went their own ways in 2008 when the provincial elections were announced. Sulaiman formed the National Front for the Salvation of Iraq. He and the other tribal chiefs argued with the Islamic Party over the timing and security of the elections, at one time saying that the voting should be postponed, and then warning that his patience was wearing thin with delays. Personally, he ran a campaign based upon nationalism and his prominence in the fight with Al Qaeda in Iraq, along with promising better governance and services. When the final results were announced in February 2009 however, his party failed to gain a single seat in the elections. Abu Risha was the victor with eight seats, and he formed an alliance with Sheikh Hayes who’s party, the Iraqi Tribes List, walked away with two seats.

It’s probably out of frustration that Sulaiman is now threatening the government. Seeing his former friends turned rivals gain power in Anbar is a bitter pill for the head of the largest tribe in the province. His alliance with Maliki through the Support Council apparently didn’t help, so now he has turned to attacking the government as a way to regain notoriety and put his name back on the political map. This is a tactic that Sulaiman and Hayes perfected in the days when they worked together. Sulaiman’s poor showing in the provincials is probably a bad sign for his chances if he chose to run in the parliamentary vote. If he couldn’t win in the local elections, he’s unlikely to gain more votes in the balloting for national office.


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

Associated Press, “Iraqi provincial election results,” 2/19/09

Hamid, Nirmeen, “al-suleiman: awakening movement is over,” Niqash, 10/24/08

Ibrahim, Waleed, “Iraq Sunni Arab dispute may delay Anbar handover,” Reuters, 7/16/08

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

Robertson, Campbell and Oppel, Richard, “Iraqis Fail to Agree on Provincial Election Law,” New York Times, 8/7/08

Sly, Liz, “IRAQ: Mutterings of tribal revolt,” Babylon & Beyond Blog, Los Angeles Times, 4/28/09

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