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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