Since October 2013, the Mutahidun party that runs Anbar has tried to negotiate with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to put an end to the protests in the province. There have been several meetings between officials in Baghdad and Anbar over the last several weeks to try to work out some concessions between the two that might appease the demonstrators. Both sides are worried about the increasing terrorist threat in Anbar, and Mutahidun would also like to focus upon governance that would require the cooperation of Baghdad. As those steps were being taken however, the protesters said they were no longer interested in the talks. That leaves the future of this effort up in the air.
Tribal and local officials from Anbar have held a series of meetings with their counterparts in Baghdad. Several sheikhs for example met with the Iraqi army to discuss better cooperation over security in October. Prime Minister Maliki ordered the army to release some family members, and to offer rewards for any intelligence the tribes might offer. The next month members of the Awakening talked with the premier. Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha promised to come up with 30 Awakening groups to confront Al Qaeda in Iraq in the province, and in turn the premier said that he would arm and fund them. One sheikh believed that Parliament Speaker Osama Nujafi who heads Mutahidun had worked out this agreement. Later in the month, Maliki met with the Anbar provincial council. Afterward a number of concessions were announced including the release of 85 billion dinars to the council, the approval of building an airport and refinery in the province, having the Finance Ministry continue projects already underway, the addition of 2,500 new police to the governorate, dismissing the provincial police chief, reducing the power of the Anbar Operations Command, withdrawing some of its forces, the release of 67 female prisoners, and the end of arresting family members for the crimes of their relatives. The two sides set 35 days as the time limit to implement these plans. The deputy head of the Anbar council Saleh Issawi added that the premier wanted to address the demands of the demonstrators as well with issues such as the anti-terrorism law, the Accountability and Justice Law, and the release of prisoners. Issawi said that Maliki wanted to resolve those before the 2014 elections. Finally, acting Defense Minister Adnan Dulaimi met with notables and sheikhs to talk about security at the very end of November. The head of the provincial council Sabah Kahout al-Halbousi believed that these meetings opened the door to better relations with Baghdad, while the prime minister stated that these talks were important to bring Anbar into the fight against militants. The fear of the insurgency is a major motivator for Maliki to reconcile with the province. The security forces have not been able to handle the rebirth of Al Qaeda in Iraq and other groups in Anbar, and the loss of support of the Awakening and tribes has not helped. Mutahidun is also concerned with the growing violence in Anbar, because it disrupts its plans to rule the governorate. It is hoping that a deal with Baghdad will empower the council by bringing in much needed money and development, while putting an end to the protests, which are now considered a distraction.
The demonstrators are not so pliable however. One leader of the movement said that Maliki was only dealing with services in these spat of meetings, and not the demands of the protestors. Another said that only the governor of Anbar had been selected to represent them, so the meetings with the provincial council meant nothing. He believed that the premier was not serious about their demands anyway. Then on December 3, the activists withdrew their support for the governor claiming he had failed. It was always questionable that any deal between Mutahidun and Baghdad would end the protests, which are made up of various groups with no real central organizing committee. The hope appeared to be that if some concessions were gained from Maliki then parts of the demonstrators would walk away, and eventually the entire movement would end. Some of the activists connected to Mutahidun were willing to go along with this idea, but not anymore. At the same time the protesters have lost their main political backer, and might be without some of the tribes as well, which could eventually lead to their end.
The Mutahidun party jumped on the protest bandwagon when they began in Anbar in December 2012, but now appear to believe they have outlived their usefulness. Today, the Anbar governor, council, and various sheikhs are holding a series of negotiations in an attempt to gain more support from the central government, and in turn close down the protests sites with whatever concessions they can gain. On Maliki’s part he is now interested in these talks, because he feels threatened by the re-birth of Al Qaeda and its wave of attacks it is carrying out in Anbar and into Baghdad. He is hoping that talks with provincial notables can bring them back into the fold so that they can jointly confront the insurgency. This is especially important for both sides because parliamentary elections will be held next year, and all parties are interested in showing progress on the security front or else they will be blamed and could lose votes in the process. The problem is that the protest movement is not directly involved in any of these meetings, and has now withdrawn its backing for the governor to talk with the prime minister. The political parties are likely to continue their bargaining anyway, and hope that the demonstrations will eventually collapse of their own accord as the elite are much more comfortable dealing with each other than including popular movements.
AIN, “Dulaimi discuss security file with chieftains of Anbar province,” 11/30/13
- “Police commander dismissed, 67 detainees released in Anbar,” 11/25/13
Al Forat, “Demonstrators in Anbar withdraw authorization to Governor to negotiate with government over their demands,” 12/2/13
Al-Mada, “Maliki and the government of Anbar: focus on strengthening the army and the police priority to the stability and security of the province,” 11/26/13
National Iraqi News Agency, “Abu-Risha announce the formation of 30 armed units to confront al-Qaeda in Anbar,” 11/22/13
- “Chairman of Anbar Council: Maliki promised to visit Anbar at the end of current month,” 11/26/13
- “Maliki declares to respond to the legitimate demands of Anbar province,” 11/27/13
Niqash, “unintended consequences: extremists causing sunni-shiite reconciliation,” 11/7/13
Al-Qaisi, Mohammed, “Iraq’s Sahwa strengthen border security: Abu Reesha,” Al-Shorfa, 11/19/13
Sabah, Mohammad, “Leading role in Awakening: Hardan al-Maliki acknowledge the failure and we agreed to re-formations in 2006,” Al-Mada, 11/25/13
- “Maliki signed himself “package demands” made by Anbar .. The negotiators have 35 days,” 11/27/13
Shafaq News, “Maliki’s meeting with Anbar delegation ends with a number of agreements,” 11/25/13