The Sunni Awakening

The Albu Fahd tribe joins the Anbar Salvation Council and vows to fight al Qaeda in Iraq

Poster shows Sheikh Abu-Risha staring down figures representing Al Qaeda in Ramadi. (Photo by Sam Dagher, CSM). Click to view.

The Anbar Salvation Council, the group of tribal leaders and former Sunni insurgents, continues to expand its base of support in the Sunni community both inside Anbar province, and beyond. Sam Dagher of the Christian Science Monitor reports on a major development in Anbar province. The Anbar Salvation Council, led by Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Rishawi, has turned the Albu Fahd tribe against al Qaeda. The Albu Fahd was one of the six original Anbari tribes to support al Qaeda and its Islamic State in Iraq. These six tribes are known in some military intelligence circles as the “Sinister Six”. The Albu Fahd [described as the Bu-Fahed] has now joined the Anbar Salvation Council and pledged to throw its weight behind the fight against al Qaeda.

“Winning over the Bu-Fahed tribe was a coup,” said Mr. Dagher, who covered the tribal meeting where the Albu Fahd moved into the camp of the Anbar Salvation Council. “It had been one of Al Qaeda’s staunchest supporters, and traces its lineage to the birthplace of the puritan form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism in the Saudi Arabian province of Najd. It formally threw its lot behind Sheikh Abdel-Sattar Abu Risha.”

As of last September, the leadership of 25 of the 31 Anbari tribes were cooperating with the government under the aegis of the Anbar Salvation Council, while six folded under the black banner of al Qaeda in Iraq’s Islamic State. Two of the other original sinister six tribes are the Albu Issa and the al-Zuba’a, however both tribes are split in their support. Elements of the Albu Issa have battled against al Qaeda in and around Fallujah. The Zuba’a were split and elements fought al Qaeda after the assassination against Sheikh Thahir al-Dhari, a tribal leader, and the attempt against Salam al-Zubaie, one of Iraq’s two Deputy Prime Ministers.

The Albu Fahd tribe is a member of the Dulaimi Confederation, the largest and most powerful grouping in Iraq. We noted the shift in the Albu Fahd tribe was occurring in March, and reported that Mohammed Mahmoud Latif (aka Mahmoud al-Fahdawi) is a leader of the Anbar Salvation Council. Latif/al-Fahdawi was described by Azzaman in early March as a “chieftain of the powerful Dulaimi tribe” and “head of Dulaimis in Tarmiya, Dhaloiya, Balad and Taji, some of the most violent areas in Iraq, [who was] reported to have ordered his tribesmen to wage war on Qaeda.”

Al-Fahdawi’s efforts seem to be snowballing in Diyala province. Yesterday, two Diyala tribes, the Karki and Shimouri, “signed a peace agreement at the home of the Mujema tribal leader in Diyala province, Monday,” and “promised to ‘consolidate and unify to battle all insurgents that penetrate among [their] tribes.'” Seven other tribes announced joining the Anbar Salvation Council in late April. The Anbar Salvation Council’s national political movement, the Iraqi Awakening, is set to meet in Baghdad in May. And most surprisingly, the Adhamiya Awakening has been established in the troubled Baghdad neighborhood to fight against al Qaeda.

Al-Fahdawi appears to have engineered a revolt by the 1920s Revolution Brigades against al Qaeda in Iraq in the city of Baqubah the provincial capital of Iraq. Todd Pittman of the Associated Press describes the recent fighting in Baqubah, and successful U.S. efforts to oust al Qaeda from the Tahrir neighborhood. “For eight days in early April, al-Qaida battled fellow insurgents from the nationalist 1920 Revolution Brigades, who residents said were trying to resist the terror group’s bid for control. The nationalist fighters ran out of ammunition and fled,” noted Mr. Pittman

This follows the news that the Anbar Salvation Council struck at al Qaeda beyond its provincial boundaries against al Qaeda in Iraq’s leader, Abu Ayyub al Masri, near Taji in Salahadin province. While the Anbar Salvation Council claimed to have killed al Masri, this has yet to be confirmed. The Anbar Salvation Council is clearly organizing resistance against al Qaeda’s attempts to establish its Taliban-like Islamist Caliphate in Iraq’s Sunni heartlands.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • C-Low says:

    This truley is big very very very encouraging news.
    I have long stood in bewilderment at the Sunni’s who just seemed intent on suicide. The Sunni’s have all the experience and education to naturally put them into prominent positions across a democratic Iraq government, military, economy. Of course that would require them letting go of the abosolute dictatorship domination but they would still have dominant positions.

  • ECH says:

    What are the last two tribes other then the four mentioned that are still with al-Qaeda?

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I haven’t been able to identify the last 3 original tribes of the Sinister Six. The ASC is working to turn them, that I do know.

  • Matt R says:

    Bill, there’s something I’d like to see that I think would help explain how things are going. I remember as a kid looking at these huge maps of the allied invasion of Europe during WWII and you could easily see the progression of the front from Normandy all the way to Berlin. There is no front in Iraq but there are bad areas and good areas and it’s changing and I suspect it’s getting better. The papers report that Diyala was OK but is now violent and it makes it sound like things are getting worse, but I don’t think that’s the case. With a one page graphic that shows the progression from six months ago to now, people could understand a lot more.

  • ECH says:

    Any word on how large the operations the Anbar Salvation Council is doing outside of Anbar?

  • Lisa-in-DC says:

    Gotta love that poster of the Sheikh giving AQ the evil eye!

  • anand says:

    Hats off to the general/politician David Howell Petraeus and all our brave GIs (as well as the amazing Iraqis they are working with). Gen Petraeus is proving to be what all of us hoped he would become.
    Just how big a win Albu Fahd and some of the other tribes are is difficult to overestimate.
    The tide has turned positively in Al Anbar. The mission has been mostly transfered to the Iraqis in Salahadin and Ninevah with slow but steady progress for several years in both provinces.
    While Bill’s reporting from Diyala in recent weeks in encouraging . . . Diyala violence will be a tough nut to crack, especially with the sectarian violence supported by Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordon, Syria, Egypt, and our friendly neighborhood Gulf states.
    Much of the problem is political, with different countries backing different Iraqi political parties. I hope that Congress and the American people give Gen Petraeus and the Iraqi government long enough to make a difference.
    Let’s also not forget that most of the reduction in violence in Baghdad is temporarily suppressed, not solved. Solving will require political reconciliation in Baghdad. Let us hope that Iraq’s favorite Malik Daoud (King David) can facilitate Iraqis taking this step.

  • David M says:

    Trackbacked by The Thunder Run – Web Reconnaissance for 05/04/2007
    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

  • ajacksonian says:

    I wonder if the Salvation Council can form into a political basis for the upcoming provincial elections?
    The move needs to be finished by parliament to solidify the oil plan, but with the recent oil atlas by IHS coming out revising the estimates for western Iraq sharply upwards, that points towards those provinces becoming ‘equal partners’ in the oil game intra-Iraq. Get rid of AQI and the remaining Ba’athists, thugs, gangsters and ‘guns for hire’ sorts, and solidify around the province and its resources.
    The provincial elections promise to start breaking up the National parties at the local level, and a cross-tribal party in the west of Iraq looking to stabilize things would be a huge bonus.
    Interesting times ahead…

  • Noocyte says:

    This is highly encouraging!

    I do have a concern, though; having been oft-bitten by downstream blowback from alliances of convenience during the Cold War, we should be thrice-shy about the agendas (‘agendae?’) of those who throw their kefiyeh into the ring with us against a common foe. Once AQI is vanquished, where do these tribal elders direct their energies?

    Still, I am heartened by the unprecedented numbers of Anbari tribesmen who have signed up for the police and military; it suggests a willingness to play by the rule sets of the Iraqi state.

    Do we have any reasonable basis on which to assess which way(s) the tribes will break after AQI gets its raisins?

  • philmon says:

    Once AQI is vanquished, where do these tribal elders direct their energies?

    Hopefully they’ll turn their attention to Iranians & Syrians & Saudis that are coming in to advance their own interests. Hopefully they love their children enough to say “enough of this.”

  • ECH says:

    The tribes should be allowed to produce their own Militia like the Peshmerga and it to become the National Guard of Western Iraq. The Sunnis need a militia otherwise they will never turn against the insurgency because they know we are leaving in a few years at most an fear being slaughtered. A militia led by a pro-American non-sectarian like Sattar is the best of all worlds.
    Sattar if you ever listened to him is very much like Talabani. We need to allow the Sunnis to have a moderate U.S. backed militia, because there is zero way we can convince them that the Shia militias will respect their rights when we leave. The ASC will make certain the the rights of Sunnis are protected, but also it will not be a sectarian militia thanks to the leader which is non-sectarian.
    But, we also must keep Sattar alive.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    – The Peshmerga have been designated an official Regional Security Force under KRG.
    – The Anbar ERUs have been re-named “Provincial Security Force” and are MoI under Anbar Province authority.
    Neither are officialy “militias”. Both are officialy Para-military Police under Iraqi Law. Militias are illegal.
    With those details in mind, I suspect the Iraqi Government and MNF-I are ahead of you on this…

  • ECH says:

    That is what I mean. They are government backed National Guard forces for their region.
    When I say militia I simply mean armed group. Like in the United States militias are allowed in each state under the Constitution we call the National Guard.
    The word militia has been basterized when it comes to Iraq because of the Medhi Army. But, that is a different situtation entirely in my view.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Mahdi Gang if you do not mind.
    I refuse to grant that organized crime gang with the honorable self-claimed titles of Army or Militia. They are not up to that weight or disipline.
    The definitions in Iraqi Law are very relavent and militias are illegal in Iraqi Law.
    Official MoI subordiante Regional/Provicianal Security Forces are not militias under that law.
    They are Iraqi Police.
    The re-designated PSF is Auxilliary Iraqi Provicial Police.
    The difference between legit and criminal organizations: Militias are, by definition, criminal in this context.
    A transfer from that force to INP or any other part of MoI’s Police would be a paperwork drill in MoI and a trip to school. Training of some of PSF is already occuring in Sulmaniyah IP Academy. Habbenayah is to get another IP Academy soon to train up MoI.

  • BB says:

    The spreading nature of the Anbar Awakening is very important for politcal stability as well. It would be great to see a leader of the Anbar Awaking parlay the groups vanquishing of AQI into some measure of national support that crossed groups. This Sheik seems to be a very good motivator and organizer. Perhaps, just perhaps, this group might be the first to span sectarian divides in the next national election.

  • Brooks says:

    A simplistic question—how can you tell a Sunni from a Shiite if they are not wearing something on top of their head?
    Do Shiite have tribes?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Tribes are not defined by religion. Many tribes in Iraq are mixed.
    Names tend to reflect religious background and can identify shia/sunni. Sometimes.

  • markg8 says:

    So what are we still doing there? Let’s get out and let the Iaqis exterminate AQ in Iraq. The whole purpose is to get Arabs to reject violent religious jihadists isn’t it? Well?
    In other news, yesterday the Iraqi parliment passed a non binding resolution demanding a timetable for withdrawal of coalition troops. Next up is a binding resolution.


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