Drawing the Battlelines in Anbar
A large majority of the Anbar tribes vow to fight al Qaeda in Iraq and the insurgency, plus, Losing Anbar?
While the news from western Iraq has focused on the partial leaking of a Marine intelligence report purportedly focusing on the inaccurate reports of the 'loss of Anbar province',' a significant political development has occurred between the Anbar tribes and the Coalition and Iraqi government. The New York Times reported over the weekend that 25 of the province's 31 tribes have organized to oppose the insurgency and al Qaeda.
The tribes are said to be able to comprise "30,000 young men armed with assault rifles who were willing to confront and kill the insurgents and criminal gangs that have torn at the fabric of tribal life in Anbar." Sheik Abdul Sattar Buzaigh Al-Rishawi, the chief of the Rishawi tribe, said "the insurgents counted about 1,300 fighters, many of them foreigners." Al-Rishawi explains the process was long and the 25 tribes agree the insurgents and al Qaeda are harming Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq.
"We held a meeting earlier and agreed to fight those who call themselves mujahedeen... We believe that there is a conspiracy against our Iraqi people. Those terrorists claimed that they are fighters working on liberating Iraq, but they turned out to be killers. Now all the people are fed up and have turned against them... We are in battle with the terrorists who kill Sunnis and Shiites, and we do not respect anyone between us who talks in a sectarian sense..."
The BBC reports "15 of the 18 tribes in Ramadi " have sworn to fight those who are killing Sunnis and Shiites', and had put together '20,000 young men'"to fight the insurgency. "People are fed up with the acts of those criminals who take Islam as a cover for their crimes," said Sheik Fassal al-Guood, a tribal leader in Ramadi.
The Anbar tribes have taken great risk by publicly going on record against the insurgency and al Qaeda. In May, I documented al Qaeda's assassination program against tribal, clerical and government leaders in Anbar. The threat is real. There is also the possibility that some of the 6 remaining tribes have held out from taking a stand against al Qaeda out of fear of retribution.
The size and influence of the tribes organizing in Anbar is an unknown to the public, but the military and Iraqi government will now have an excellent idea as to who is lining up with the government and who is siding with the insurgency.
The cooperation of tribes with the Iraqi government and Coalition forces is not a new development in Anbar. Nor is the willingness of the tribes to fight against al Qaeda. Over the summer of 2005 and spring of 2006, I documented numerous incidents of 'red on red' infighting, as well as the formation of the 'Anbar Revenge Brigade.' I sat in on tribal meetings in Husaybah, where tribal leaders openly expressed a willingness to assist with stability, security and reconstruction. The tribal leaders have repeatedly expressed an interest in ejecting the jihadis from their midst, but fear, intimidation and outright violence have prevented them from organizing.
I've received plenty of questions about the intelligence report that claims Anbar province has been lost. I've talked to several sources in the military and intelligence who have actually seen the entire report (and not been fed excerpts). They are angry over the media's characterization of the report. Basically, the report indicated that the situation in Ramadi is dire, and that the political situation in Anbar as a whole as a result is in danger because of this.
Ramadi has been a problem for some time, but the major problem there has been the Iraqi government's lack ofpolitical will to act over the course of the last year. Even ceding the security situation to the tribes is a form of passing the problem on to the locals.
Since my sources were unwilling to go on the record, I chose not to address this directly. If the military community is unwilling to step up to the plate and defend itself, except in vague terms, about the situation in Ramadi then they will have to deal with the backlash of this decision. Good work has been and continues to be done in Anbar. The military has a problem with public affairs, plain and simple, and fails to realize that the impact on remaining silent on this report far outweighs the need to keep the information classified.