Thursday, December 19, 2013

Understanding Anbar Before & After the Awakening Pt. VIII Sheikh Majid al-Sulaiman

Sheikh Majid Abdul al-Razzaq Ali al-Sulaiman is one of the two elder sheikhs of the Dulaim tribe, one of the largest in Anbar province. He is the uncle of Sheikh Ali Hatem Sulaiman, and both were leaders in the Awakening movement. The elder Sulaiman has an interesting story because he fled to Jordan in the 1990s after he took part in a failed coup against Saddam Hussein and become involved in opposition politics. After 2003 he quickly became disillusioned with the American occupation and retreated to Anbar. There he became a target of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and that was what led Sulaiman to join the Awakening. That movement quickly became divided by personal rivalries and broke up into different factions. Sheikh Sulaiman’s story therefore covers the gamut of changes that took place in Anbar both before and after the 2003 invasion.

Sheikh Majid al-Sulaiman got involved in the Iraqi opposition movement in the 1990s. He was suspected in a failed coup against Saddam Hussein that led him to flee to Amman, Jordan. There he became involved in the various exile groups that were against the Baathist regime. That put him in contact with people like Iyad Allawi, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, Massoud Barzani, Ahmed Chalabi, Jalal Talabani, and the Americans. He went to two major meetings of the opposition in London, one in 2000 and another in 2003. There they argued about what to do with Baath Party members, the army, and other issues in a post-Saddam Iraq, but came to no agreement as there were deep divisions between the different leaders. Instead, Allawi got the sheikh involved with the Americans. After a number of meetings with U.S. officials in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, Sulaiman was convinced to contact several generals in Anbar, and even returned to Iraq where he handed out satellite phones in Ramadi, Fallujah, and Abu Ghraib to sources that would collect intelligence for Washington. Sulaiman highlights the diversity of the opposition to Saddam. There were religious parties like the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, there were ethnic parties like the two Kurdish ones, and there were nationalists and former Baathists like the Iraqi National List, along with sheikhs like Sulaiman. Ultimately the wide range of groups and personalities meant that the opposition could never come to any kind of consensus.

When the U.S. invasion finally came, Sulaiman was quickly disappointed with its aftermath. He along with Iyad Allawi were taken to the Iraq-Jordan border by the United States to enter after the fall of the regime. He found the Trebil border crossing abandoned and being looted. Then after being greeted by his Dulaim tribe in Ramadi he was called for a meeting in Baghdad with Jay Garner the head of the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) on April 28, which was the first American-led group in charge of post-war Iraq. This was a famous meeting where 300-400 Iraqis asked who was in charge of Iraq, who would provide services, etc. and Garner told them that they were. The attendees then exploded in rage, and the conference ended in discord. Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) quickly replaced the ORHA and Garner. Sulaiman was just as unhappy with them as with the ORHA. The sheikh was opposed to dissolving both the military and the Baath Party, and believed that the border was being left unguarded allowing Al Qaeda and the Iranians to flow into the country. Sulaiman then met with Adnan Pachachi, Barzani, Chalabi, Hakim, Allawi’s representative Nouri Badra, and Hoshyar Zebari in the Green Zone with Bremer. All of them had complaints about what the CPA was doing, but Bremer would not budge from his policies. When it came to forming the Iraqi Governing Council Sulaiman was asked to join, but he declined, because he was so upset with the CPA. He also complained that the Americans were trying to form a new Iraqi leadership along ethnosectarian lines. The sheikh became so upset with what was happening with the U.S. occupation that he gave up on trying to play a role in Baghdad, and returned to Anbar. Many other Iraqis were just as angry at this period. Some decided that they were better served staying in the capital and working with the Americans to attempt to gain power. Sulaiman however was so disillusioned that he returned to his home in Anbar.

Sulaiman’s time in Anbar didn’t turn out well either. A new provisional government had been set up, and the new Governor Abdul Karim Burjis al-Rawi was trying to get the administration up and running. He sold some government stock to pay public employees, found jobs for 2,000 Anbaris in Baghdad as guards, and got the Americans to pay some civil servants as well such as teachers. That move towards stability was quickly ended when Sulaiman’s house was bombed. He then went for a meeting in Baghdad when Al Qeada in Iraq (AQI) ambushed his entourage. The Islamists quickly became the major issue in Anbar beheading people, banning certain practices, and attempting to assert their control over businesses. Sulaiman believed that Al Qaeda was actually working for Iran. This was an idea shared by many Anbaris who tried to explain the chaotic post-war situation by blaming an enemy they knew, Tehran, for nearly everything that was happening. Anbar quickly became a hotbed of insurgent activity. That disrupted all of the attempts to put the province back together, and those early positive moves were replaced by more and more chaos and violence.

The excesses of Al Qaeda eventually turned the tribes against it and led to the rise of the Awakening. In Amman, Jordan, Sheikh Abdul Abu Risha held a conference of several prominent Anbar sheikhs to discuss putting together a tribal force to fight AQI. Sulaiman knew Abu Risha from before, and had a low opinion of him. Sulaiman called him a highwayman and a gangster, and thought that actually made him the right person to fight the Islamists. That led the sheikh to sign on to the Awakening and get his Dulaim tribe to support it. Many others in Anbar felt the same way. Al Qaeda came to Iraq claiming that it was there to help the Iraqis expel the Americans, but it came with its own foreign agenda, which did not sit well with Anbaris. Their killing of everyone who did not disagree with them was a perfect example of their excesses.

The Awakening turned out to be an effective fighting force, but a failure at politics. After security was turned around in Anbar, the tribes tried their hand at local and national politics. Sulaiman however claimed that some sheikhs were only concerned about their own personal gain, and that led to the dissolution of the movement. He was also critical of the Americans, stating that they were just like Saddam creating their own sheikhs by handing out money and weapons to them. Sulaiman didn’t say it outright, but he was talking about Sheikh Abu Risha. He came from a very small tribe in Anbar, and became the governorates most prominent individual meeting with General Petraues, President Bush, and others. Like the Iraqi exile opposition the Awakening had too many personalities with their own agendas. When the common threat of Al Qaeda was vanquished those differences came out, and the Awakening broke up into various groups, which were nothing more than personal vehicles for their leaders like Abu Risha and Sulaiman.

Sheikh Sulaiman’s story highlighted the fracturing of Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Before the 2003 invasion the sheikh participated in the exile movement, then worked with both the ORHA and CPA, and eventually joined the Anbar Awakening. The opposition couldn’t agree on what to do about Saddam. The ORHA and CPA didn’t have a plan for the country, and the Iraqis that attempted to cooperate with it didn’t agree with much of what the Americans did. Even when Sulaiman joined something successful like the Awakening those good times didn’t last. The opposition, the U.S., and the Awakening could not unify the different groups and individuals that wanted power after the fall of the Baathist regime. Instead there were always too many voices something that still plagues the country to this day.


McWilliams, Chief Warrant Officer-4 Timothy, and Wheeler, Lieutenant Colonel Kurtis, ed., Al-Anbar Awakening Volume II, Iraqi Perspectives, From Insurgency to Counterinsurgency in Iraq, 2004-2009, Virginia: Marine Corps University, 2009

PBS Frontline, “”We want a Government and We Want It Now,”” Truth, War and Consequences, 10/9/03

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