The people of Anbar, bandits or patriots?

The situation in al-Anbar - Iraq’s largest governorate - is getting worse, according to reports

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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Although the Iraqi elections have ended, the situation in al-Anbar - Iraq’s largest governorate - is getting worse, according to reports. Fighting escalated in the city of Fallujah and other cities which have not seen calm since 2003. Following the American invasion, Anbar only saw a short period of calm after al-Qaeda was expelled from the area. However, it wasn’t long before the group returned to the province.

According to reports, fighting in Anbar halted Iraq oil exports to Turkey, which amounted to 400,000 barrels per day. The petroleum which Nouri al-Maliki’s government exports to Jordan - 10,000 barrels at decreased prices – was also halted. The same goes for Baghdad’s imports, such as vegetables from Jordan, as well as its imports of cement and gypsum. Bandits now control highways in the north and west of the country.

Anbar is suffering

Anbar’s cities are suffering more than Baghdad after the road to them was blocked except for army forces and al-Qaeda groups. Anbar’s residents have also been under a cruel siege for several months.

Anbar is now suffering from al-Qaeda criminals, rebels and tribes allied with them

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

As to why all of this is happening, it is because of the fighting in Anbar where the war is complicated due to the many parties involved in it. Although some claim patriotism, most of it is a dirty war where there’s neither patriotism nor patriots. Al-Qaeda and its affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria succeeded at dominating vast areas, and they are fighting tribes and government troops which in turn are fighting other tribes allied with al-Qaeda. Everyone succeeded at one thing - destroying the area and displacing tens of thousands of its people.

Some leaders in Fallujah and the rest of Anbar who ally with al-Qaeda and the ISIS are wrong to do so because these groups are hostile and are rejected in the entire region, not just in Iraq. The people of Anbar must also recall that al-Qaeda - whether the one affiliated with Zawhiri or with the late Zarqawi - was only a façade for the Iranian and Syrian regimes. Al-Qaeda served the Iranian regime until it enabled it to dominate Iraq by forcing the Americans to negotiate with Tehran. Then al-Qaeda disappeared but reappeared later when the Maliki government cut financial support to the Sunni tribes’ Awakening Councils fighting al-Qaeda in Anbar, leaving the province without protection.

Anbar is now suffering from al-Qaeda criminals, rebels and tribes allied with them. Add to that the fact that the province is also confronting Iraqi troops and some tribes. No one will win in this war which may go on as long as the government in Baghdad thinks it’s capable of finalizing the situation by resorting to the power of arms.

It’s certainly possible to defeat the ISIS and the rest of al-Qaeda’s affiliates given that the governorate’s powers have previously deterred them. This will require the army’s cooperation with tribes as well as a political solution that ends the rupture. A political and military solution will make it possible to reopen roads, spur activity in factories, export petroleum to Turkey and Jordan and restore security in Baghdad which is a stone’s throw away from Anbar.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 12, 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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