Maliki’s fleeing forces left Anbar to the terrorists

Anbar covers a very large area that is very difficult to control, as the Americans had discovered

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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The United States’ armed forces despaired of Iraq’s Anbar province and considered it to be an uncontrollable region dominated by al-Qaeda. All modern means of combat failed in assuring them a firm grip of this large Emirate. They would have abandoned it, had it not been the source of unrest for the capital Baghdad and a continuous threat to the rest of Iraq’s provinces. A U.S. intelligence official revealed: “We have lost the war in western Iraq and we can no longer control it.” This is how it all started for Gen. David Petraeus and his colleagues, who had to re-assess the political landscape in the rugged region. They discovered that the main problem was their unfamiliarity with the region and its people; Anbar’s citizens have nothing to do with al-Qaeda and the majority of terrorists were settled there by force, especially in Fallujah.

Most of those terrorists are foreigners who sneaked into the region via the Syrian border, with the awareness and support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s intelligence service. Instead of fighting against al-Qaeda, the U.S. forces’ lack of awareness has led them to target the people of Anbar instead. Anbar is a regulated region within a large network of tribes. The then-commander of the U.S. forces, Gen. David Petraeus, along with Dale Alford, explored the connections with tribal leaders and discovered that they were victims of al-Qaeda. These tribal leaders expressed extreme hostility towards the U.S. forces that were targeting them. The U.S. sealed a political and military deal with Anbar’s tribes and provided them with weapons and arms in late 2006, which changed the course of the war in Iraq. Al-Qaeda cells started to collapse for the first time. The hero of those battles was Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, who was killed by al-Qaeda, or the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

After the Americans

When the Americans left and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seized the helm of the military leadership, his ignorance led him to think that he no longer needed the so-called Sunni Awakening movement (Sahawat) – a coalition between tribal Sheikhs in Anbar that united to maintain security - and perhaps he was afraid that they would pull the rug out from beneath his feet. He cut most of the financial support for tribal fighters, who were unemployed citizens. After the disabling of the Sahawat tribes, terrorist groups have once again started to break into the region and turned Iraqis’ lives into a living hell. Maliki recently tried to correct his mistake by renewing the agreement with the tribal leaders, but the task has become more difficult than ever. He believed that stubbornness was heroic and he became involved in conflicts with various political and tribal leaders in Anbar and Baghdad. He dragged himself and his government into conflicts that weakened him and lost him the people’s respect.

Maliki threatens to leave the region as it is, prey for al-Qaeda, but he cannot do so

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

These battles promoted his enmity as he continued to fight politicians during most of his reign, instead of devoting himself to the development of a country that was completely wrecked.

During the last crisis in Anbar, he mobilized all his forces and was confident enough to turn the battle into an exercise in political propaganda, ignoring Shiite and Sunni calls to avoid dividing Iraq. Instead of sending his security and military forces to fight al-Qaeda as promised, he guided his forces in an operation to demonstrate his power by attacking the house of his political rival MP Ahmed al-Alwani, although the latter stayed at home at the beginning of the campaign and did not go to the square in which protests were being held. He had already suggested to the prime minister to send a force to inspect the square, under the pretext that al-Qaeda leaders and arms warehouses could be found there. Maliki, as those who are interested in Iraqi affairs well know, is governing the country without the partners who helped him reach power. He sacked some of them, while some others resigned of their own accord. He singularly dominated all key ministries such as the ministries of finance, military, security and intelligence.

A one man state is no state at all

Subsequently, there is no real state anymore and what we see are simply his forces, services, investigators and government. He arrested opposition MP Alwani and killed the latter’s brother. He made sure to reveal humiliating images of the detained MP, not showing any respect for the constitution, for his country or for the oath he made in front of the world!

After this “heroic” act, he was suddenly taken aback by al-Qaeda, which began to show off its crimes in Anbar, taking advantage of the chaos and anger of the people. Maliki’s forces fled as he reverted to asking the tribes for help.

Anbar covers a very large area that is very difficult to control, as the Americans had discovered despite the enormous size of their armed force in Iraq. There are no solutions except to respect the people of the region and cooperate with them. Since they are against al-Qaeda; they are the most suitable to fight against it. Maliki threatens to leave the region as it is, prey for al-Qaeda, but he cannot do so. It is one of the largest governorates and Anbar shares borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Terrorist groups in Anbar can besiege the capital and threaten other regions. It provides extremist fighters for the war in Syria, the majority of which escaped from al-Maliki’s prisons due to his mismanagement and weak armed forces.

Unfortunately, al-Maliki has succeeded in one thing: increasing the state’s conflicts at all levels and between all groups. He believes that the destruction of the temple on top of the Iraqis will prolong his rule for a couple of years at least, under the pretext of the state of emergency. He is aware that it is impossible for him to be re-elected as prime minister due to the large number of enemies he made, whether Sunni, Shiite, Arab or Kurd.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Jan. 3, 2014.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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