Friday, April 29, 2016

Hawija The Moment Iraq’s Insurgency Was Reborn

Three years ago the Iraqi insurgency re-emerged. In April 2013 the Baathist Naqshibandi group was able to provoke Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to send the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to attack the Hawija protest site in southern Kirkuk governorate. Immediately afterward other demonstration areas talked about taking up arms against the government, and there was a wave of violence by all the major militant groups. Security steadily deteriorated over the next year culminating in the fall of Mosul in 2014. The Hawija raid then was the moment the Iraqi militants began operating out in the open once again after their nadir following the U.S. Surge.

When the Sunni protest movement started at the end of 2012, the Baathists attempted to take advantage of it. The demonstrations began when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moved against Finance Minister Rafi Issawi in December 2012 by claiming he was behind terrorist attacks. Protests started in Anbar, Issawi’s home, and then spread to other provinces. The one in Hawija began in January 2013, and was led by the Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq, the political wing of the Baathist Naqshibandi insurgent group. It wanted to provoke a conflict with the security forces that could be used to turn the public against the government and towards violence. The Baathists attempted to do so in Mosul, Ramadi, and Fallujah, but failed. It finally found its moment in Hawija.

In April 2013, the Naqshibandi was able to create a confrontation with the ISF in Kirkuk. On April 19, a checkpoint outside the Hawija protest area was attacked leading to several casualties. The Army then raided the demonstration site, which caused some fighting. Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq claimed that 114 people were arrested as well. The ISF then demanded that the perpetrators of the checkpoint assault be turned over. Negotiations were going on when the ISF attacked the site on April 23. The Defense Ministry claimed 20 protesters and 3 soldiers were killed in the process, while a parliamentary committee later said 44 total died. It was widely believed at the time that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had grown tired of the protests and wanted to stamp them out with force. That was the reason why he didn’t wait for talks to come to any fruition, and sent in the ISF instead so quickly. That played directly into the hands of the militants.

The raid upon Hawija had the desired affect of turning many protesters towards armed struggle. First, Intifada Ahrar al-Iraq announced that it was officially joining the Naqshibandi army, and called on others to take up what it called a defensive jihad against Baghdad. At the Ramadi demonstrations a speech was given calling to take up arms. Sheikh Ali Hatem Sulaiman claimed he was forming a Pride and Dignity Army to protect the protesters, and Sheikh Abdul Malik al-Saadi, the religious leader of the Anbar protests called for a tribal army. By June the demonstrations across the country were shrinking. Many had either given up believing that they could achieve anything peacefully, or they had joined the new insurgency. The Baathist plan had worked perfectly. It provoked Maliki to crackdown on Hawija, and given people a reason to take up arms. In the process the demonstrations eventually gave way to a new wave of violence.

All of the old insurgent groups came out of the woodwork after Hawija. There were attacks upon the ISF in Tuz Kharmato, Baiji, Ramadi, and Fallujah, along with open fighting in Mosul, and the Naqshibandi temporarily seized the town of Suleiman Beq. In a foreshadowing of what would happen a year later in Mosul and Tikrit, soldiers were reported to have abandoned their posts, some senior commanders resigned, and others refused orders. Besides the Baathists, the Islamic Army (1), Ansar al-Islam, and the Islamic State of Iraq all claimed responsibility for attacks. Many tribes joined in as well. A sheikh in Hawija for example named Abu Abdullah told the Global Post after the raid upon the protest site he decided to take up arms against the government. He didn’t think his tribe was strong enough to take on the ISF alone, so it made a deal with ISI. The Naqshibandi also tried to co-opt the tribes by forming Military Councils to organize them under its leadership. By 2008 these groups had all hit a nadir. The United States Surge had killed much of the militants’ leadership or turned their membership towards the Sahwa to fight ISI. Maliki then neglected the Sahwa, which had too many ghost fighters to be integrated anyway, while the Islamic State stared a campaign to kill and intimidate them to turn them backed to militancy. The prime minister had also undermined the integrity of the security forces by appointing men loyal to him as commanders down to the brigade level, few of which were competent as leaders. All together this provided a perfect environment for the insurgency to make a comeback.

Ironically, what the Naqshibandi started the Islamic State would usurp. ISI made alliances with all the major militant groups and tribes to launch the summer offensive in 2014. It was able to take Mosul, Tikrit, and the Hawija district in June. It then demanded baya, allegiance from all the other armed groups. Those that refused were attacked and killed. That actually started by the end of 2013, but the other organizations chose to ignore that and the history of ISI, which had done the same thing before the Surge. They believed that they could carve out their own areas of control and co-exist with the Islamic State, but that was impossible. ISI wanted to create a caliphate under its sole leadership, which it eventually did. By 2015 all the other insurgent groups including the Baathists that helped it seize territory were dormant. Hawija then became a pyrrhic victory for the Naqshibandi.


1. Al-Aalem, “Islamic Army: Year not ready for power and are looking for a partnership and decision by Naqshibandi the wrong move to fight Baghdad,” 4/30/13


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