Awakening threatens to turn on the Iraqi government

After a week of violence in Iraq in which more than 170 Iraqis, including tribesmen, soldiers, and policemen have been killed in clashes during Sunni protests in Salahuddin province, the Awakening is preparing to take up arms against the Iraqi government. On April 24, Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, the head of the Awakening, said in an interview with Al Jazeera that “from Fallujah to Al Qaim” the tribes are coordinating and “united” to battle the government if need be. A portion of the interview obtained by The Long War Journal is below:

[Abu Risha] The tribes of Ramadi are now armed and ready to defend themselves against this government because what happened in Hawijah may be repeated in Anbar, Ramadi, and Fallujah. The tribes are ready to defend themselves. If the government attacks them, they will be ready to defend themselves. If the government attacks the sit-in squares, all the armed tribes will move to rescue the peaceful protesters… They will not yield to Iranian influence or its supporters. If these squares are attacked, all tribes will brandish their weapons against the attackers. If the government seeks dialogue, it will find the tribes ready for dialogue. It will find the tribes ready for any option taken by the government.

[Al Jazeera] Does each tribe work separately or there is coordination between you and tribes in the rest of areas and cities?

[Abu Risha] There is coordination from Fallujah to Al Qaim [a town on the border with Syria in western Iraq]. All tribes are united. All tribes have brandished their weapons because they cannot remain silent over the attack launched on them. Therefore, we demand the international community and the Arab League to intervene. This is a massacre carried out in violation of human rights. The UN office in Iraq is weak and we cannot cooperate with it. It does not meet the demands and does not perform its duty correctly. Mr Martin Kobler has proven his bias…

[Al Jazeera] What was the impact of this development? Do your demands remain the same? Has any change occurred after the raid on Al-Hawijah protest site?

[Abu Risha] Today’s demands call for toppling the government and forming an emergency government that includes none of the members of this government. We also call for early elections if there is a democratic system in Iraq. Today Iraq has a unique dictatorship under the cover of the [ballot] boxes and it is one of the most dangerous dictatorships in the world. The United States will be mistaken if it thinks it has paved the way for a democratic system in Iraq. Matters are now moving in the direction of dictatorship and killing of the people. Saddam Hussein was tried for [massacring] 150 persons, but yesterday the government massacred 200 persons. Will the perpetrator of this massacre be put on trial? Let us see the justice of the international community toward what is happening in Iraq.

Abu Risha has been distancing himself from Maliki’s government over the past several months as Maliki has been unresponsive to Sunni protests. For instance, when Sunni Iraqi parliamentarian Sheikh Aifan Sadoun Aifan al-Issawi was killed in an al Qaeda suicide attack in January, he accused Iran of executing the bombing, an inference which also directs responsibility toward Shia Iraqis considered to be influenced by Iran, including the Maliki government.

In addition to Abu Risha’s troubling comments, other members of the Awakening said that Sunnis in Anbar are taking steps to offer armed resistance to the Iraqi government. Today, Reuters reported that two Awakening leaders in Anbar announced the formation of the “Army of Pride and Dignity,” whose purpose is “to protect our province”:

“In order to keep Anbar a safe place for the Sunnis, we decided to form an army called the Army of Pride and Dignity with 100 volunteers from each tribe to protect our province,” said Sheikh Saeed Al-Lafi, a spokesman for the protesters.

Lafi said police and members of the Iraqi Army were welcome to join their ranks.

Influential Sunni cleric Sheikh Abdul Malik Al-Saadi, who had previously taken a conciliatory stance and urged restraint, on Saturday congratulated the “honorable Iraqi mujahideen (holy warriors)” on the proclaimed creation of the regional army.

This must be repeated: The Obama Administration’s failure to negotiate a status of forces agreement and the withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq at the end of 2011 are having serious repercussions for the security situation in the heart of the Middle East.

Without military forces in country, the US has been unable to support the Iraqi government in its counterterrorism campaign against al Qaeda in Iraq, or to serve as a buffer and broker between Iraq’s ethnic groups. The US has also diplomatically abandoned the Sunni tribes in Anbar and other provinces, despite promises to remain engaged with the Awakening after the pivotal alliance that drastically improved Iraq’s security from 2006 to 2008. Abu Risha said as much in this interview with The Daily Beast in September 2012:

He [Abu Risha] said he was assured by U.S. military leaders that he would receive regular visits from senior figures and diplomats to discuss the relationship that began in Anbar back in 2006 and 2007. “There is no contact right now,” he said. “They don’t visit at all. Ever since the United States withdrew, we haven’t gotten anyone to visit.”

Jeffrey, who left his post as ambassador at the end of May, said the meetings have not yet happened because without the U.S. military in Iraq it’s difficult for U.S. officials to travel to Anbar. “We have every intention of maintaining contact with the Awakening and other people,” Jeffrey said. “We had several meetings after the military completed its withdrawal with tribal sheiks from the greater Baghdad area, but it’s been hard to get people out to Anbar because of the security situation.” A White House spokesman declined to comment for the story.

Without US forces, al Qaeda in Iraq gained the time and space to regroup and rebuild, and has established a potent fighting force inside Syria as the Al Nusrah Front (al Qaeda’s affiliate there). Continued access to the tribes would have pressed the advantage against a previously decimated al Qaeda in Iraq and could have given the US a foothold to support non-Salafi jihadist rebels inside Syria as well (the tribes in western Iraq extend into Syria).

For more on this subject, see Threat Matrix report, The resurgence of al Qaeda in Iraq … in Iraq, and Syria, and Jordan, and Libya and …, from December 2012.

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  • Chris says:

    So in other words stupid politicians have once again condemned innocent people to death by their incompetence. Can someone please remind me why Obama rejected the Iraqis terms of sovereign immunity for a post 2011 us presence? And now the lack of a residual force allows AQI to pour into Syria giving Obama an excuse to act “concerned” and further “deliberate” as the levant burns from terrorism both government and otherwise. Stupid. Stupid Stupid.

  • Joel says:

    As a Marine who spent time in Anbar, this is extremely frustrating. That province was a linchpin of success for the surge. It appears we are doing everything in our power to see failure. it this administration that incompetent?

  • mike merlo says:

    Great news. I wonder if this is part of President Obama’s Asia pivot?

  • Knighthawk says:

    So in short just about everything many feared would happen (and them some taking into account Syria) if the US didn’t leave a small residual force around for a few more years is happening.
    ” is this administration that incompetent?”

    Incompetence or by design, you chose, I chose to believe the administration never wanted a status of forces agreement, primarily because they wanted out at any cost prior to fall of 2012.

  • rainbow says:

    We had no business in Iraq in the first place. Its not our country and thats that. Let them kill each other and their neighbors. Thats their way of life. Eye for an eye and all that. Whoever thinks a couple thousand residual grunts in Iraq would stop this type of thing is a dreamer.When are we going to learn to mind our own business ?

  • ECH says:

    Spot on article, plus the U.S. could have stopped the main supplies keeping Assad’s military going which are coming in via daily flights from Iran to Syria if we kept some military force in Iraq along with keeping al-Qaeda in Iraq from re-growing as it has and mediating Iraqi political disputes something neither the WH nor the State Dept. wants to do.
    The total pull out was political and Obama didn’t even get a polling bump out of doing so which I am sure he expected. He didn’t understand that Americans would have continued to accept U.S. troops there as long as the status quo of 2009-2011 continued were only tiny numbers of American troops were dying.
    By the way the Iraqi press is reporting from various sources Obama is considering returning 1,500 troops to Iraq.
    What makes the reports actually credible to me is that in the 2008 SOFA Bush signed it actually allowed for 1,500 U.S. troops with full immunity to stay in Iraq beyond the December 2011 deadline.
    The WH was originally going to keep the troops in Kirkuk, but instead decided again for political reasons to pull them all out. But, Obama could put in 1,500 troops in Iraq right now without negotiating another SOFA… and that is a very little known fact making the current Iraqi news reports somewhat credible in my eyes.

  • mike merlo says:

    many ‘people’ said much of the same about The Cold War. By the way how is the Soviet Union, Warsaw Pact etc., doing?

  • BobbyD says:

    Since you have sat on the sideline the past 12 years, you probably wouldn’t care what happens to the people of Iraq. Some of us who have worked with them actually do care what happens to them.

  • rainbow says:

    The facts show that there were no WMD’s and absolutely no real Iraqi connection to al qaeda until after we showed up. Wasting our young peoples lives for someone a half a world away…. saving those poor Iraqi’s from the horrible dictator who we backed until our interests didn’t align with his. We belonged in Afghanistan and could have made a difference there maybe if we would have focused on it. What do you think the majority of those peace loving Iraqi’s would say about our wonderful rescue of them from the dictator we supported for so so many years ?

  • chris says:

    Apparently 60 million human beings dying on the planet Earth because of isolationist BS isn’t enough to convince you cave dwellers that isolationism can’t work in the 21st century let alone the 20th one. Go away.
    I seriously doubt the Obama administration might do anything remotely sensible in foreign policy for Iraq by say doing something like sending back a residual force into Iraq. The planet Earth will crack open first before Obama does anything reasonable in Iraq.

  • BobbyD says:

    I still chat with the people that worked with me in Iraq. We consider each other friends, so I would assume they are thankful for the US Army coming to Iraq and disposing of an evil man. Do you base your opinion on anything factual or are you just spewing Cindy Sheehan logic?

  • James says:

    Concerning Iraq, I agree with what most of you are saying. The way I see it now, we could send more than enough military personnel over there willing to volunteer to make a difference.
    The problem with our current administration is the negative influence of people like Joe Biden are having on this president.
    They put US all at risk.

  • Eric says:

    We got into the Iraq mess easily enough. After we declared victory we tried herding cats there for a few more years. It got expensive, because the Iraqis were more about making a grab for power and loot than they were about framing a democracy. We could not say to the world that we did not want to continue getting jerked around by them and we had decided to leave them to it, because that would leave us looking like shit. We needed a face-saving climbdown from “We are the champions of Democracy” if we were ever gonna twist free of the grift.
    SOFA was the easy way out, and we took that way out easily enough, too didn’t we? And it was just what the voting – Shiite – majority wanted, wasn’t it?
    There is enough bs to go around on this. As an American citizen, I well enough know when my elected officials have put more of it on me.
    The silver lining is maybe with this: the world media has done a fair job of making all the goings on in Iraq fairly public, and the corruption and power-grabbing in each faction of government are a lesson to the rest of the world not to attempt nation-building in a culture of kleptocracy. There are few more countries like that, too. So infected with the sickness of hate as to make rule of law implausible. I’d say that’s fairly well understood by the rest of the world by now. There doesn’t seem to be any unreasonable rush to get caught up in Syria, or in Pakistan or Iran – just yet.
    But there’s a flip-side to that coin:
    All these guys are dead right. We are either part of the solution or we are part of the problem when these countries spawn terrorism. We have a line to hold with the salafists and deobandis. They don’t function as states. They will not answer for their actions under rules of law, so they must be fought with. You just bring all the boys home and the extremists will soon enough make state-failures and the spread of radical islam the narrative for the forseeable time to come.
    Take a walk around any suicide-bombing crime-scene. You will see enough to know that these cave-dwellers are never gonna stop until they burn down civilization or until we exterminate them.
    Our choice of where comes down to our institutional strengths and our political will. One has been strong and the other one weak – so yes, friend, we are….. fighting these freaks with one arm tied behind our backs – until they do something so heinous – like nuking NYC – that we are resolved as a unanimous body of civilized folks to sanction their utter destruction.
    And until then we are in the ‘interesting times’ in between, fighting an enemy who will NEVER be brought to their senses.

  • larry says:

    I’m sure the vast majority of US Service members that went to Iraq and put it all on the line had nothing but good intentions for the people that they came to know and care about. Having never served, I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to see things spiral downhill in Anbar/Sunni Triangle after the enormous progress that was made there vs AQI.

    That said, just because what Rainbow is saying is not popular here, does not make it wrong:

    * There were no WMD

    * The Baathist hated the Salafists almost as much as we do (if not more).

    * The government in power now is every bit as allied to Iran as they are to us, if not more so.

    * After close to a decade there and god only knows how much sacrifice, Iraq is sliding toward a pro Shi’ite authoritarian state which could make AQI once again an attractive option for Sunnis. This time they won’t make Zarqawi’s mistakes of being overly bloodthirsty (maybe).

    The unfortunate reality is that good intentions don’t guarantee good results…especially if those you are trying to help take advantage of those intentions.


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