Sunday, July 06, 2014

Iraq in Crisis - Part 1

This spe­cial report from Revolution Observer analy­ses the back­ground and emerg­ing trends from the upris­ing in Iraq. Part 1 looks at the back­ground and con­di­tions that have led to the upris­ing.
Since the begin­ning of 2014 the cen­tral gov­ern­ment of Iraq has slowly but steadily lost con­trol over sub­stan­tial parts of the country.
On the 4th of Jan­u­ary 2014 rebels took con­trol of Fal­lu­jah and parts of Ramadi. The Iraqi army fought back, but the rebel­lion nev­er­the­less spread both north­wards and west­wards, until on the 10th of June the Iraqi army aban­doned its bases in and around Mosul and Tikrit in the north of the coun­try and had to begin prepa­ra­tions to defend the cap­i­tal Bagh­dad against an approach­ing rebel army.
In the inter­na­tional media the Al Qaeda spin-off “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)” is por­trayed as the dri­ving force behind this rebel­lion. While the analy­ses of the events are mul­ti­ple, there is no agreed upon con­clu­sion. Some ana­lysts see the events in Iraq as an Amer­i­can vic­tory, believ­ing the rebels are “on the pay­roll of Amer­ica”. [1] Oth­ers believe the events indi­cate a fail­ure on the side of Amer­ica to exe­cute its plans for Iraq, or in other words an Amer­i­can defeat against its arch-enemy for the last 13 years Al Qaeda. [2] Again oth­ers see the events as a proxy war between regional play­ers, i.e. some­thing Amer­ica has no rela­tion­ship with. [3]
Since events are still devel­op­ing and facts are rel­a­tively scarce, it is almost impos­si­ble to deter­mine if there really is an “invis­i­ble hand” behind what is com­monly called the “ISIS Revolt” in Iraq, let alone who this “hand” belongs to (assum­ing it exists…).
The back­ground to the cur­rent uprising
Anbar province, where the cur­rent revolt began, has been a cen­tre of con­flict since the Amer­i­cans invaded Iraq back in 2003.
Much of the resis­tance against the Amer­i­can pres­ence in Iraq found its ori­gin amongst the Sunni tribes that inhabit Anbar.
Partly because of this, when Al Qaeda began to orga­nize in Iraq to fight the Amer­i­cans, it also set up base in Anbar. [4] With the help of Syr­ian intel­li­gence Al Qaeda fight­ers from all over the world trav­elled first to Syria and from there across the bor­der into Anbar to launch a dev­as­tat­ing offen­sive against the Amer­i­cans. [5]
This lead to the Amer­i­cans launch­ing a num­ber of major mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in the province. Both in 2004 and again in 2006 there were major assaults on the cities of Fal­lu­jah and Ramadi. [6] None of these oper­a­tions had the suc­cess Amer­ica had hoped for, how­ever, as they failed to bring full Amer­i­can con­trol over the province. As things turned out, it would take an Al Qaeda defeat to achieve this goal rather than an Amer­i­can victory.
At a cer­tain stage dur­ing the Iraq War a rift devel­oped between the global lead­er­ship of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden en Ayman al Zawahiri, and the local leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq Abu Musab Al Zar­qawi. Basi­cally, Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri ordered Al Zar­qawi to stop attack­ing Shi’a shrines and cul­tural cen­ters. The focus of Al Qaeda in Iraq was to be on fight­ing the Amer­i­cans and their agents in Iraq, whether Sunni or Shi’a, with the aim of expelling them from Iraq such that the Mus­lim there could take con­trol over their own des­tiny. The war was not to be a sec­tar­ian pitch­ing Sunni Mus­lims against Shi’a Mus­lims. Al Zar­qawi, how­ever, had his own plans and the dif­fer­ence of opin­ion between the global and regional lead­er­ship of Al Qaeda lead to Al Qaeda in Iraq break­ing off from the global Al Qaeda orga­ni­za­tion. Al Qaeda in Iraq then rebranded itself into the “Islamic State of Iraq (ISI)”. [7]
The ISI made a major tac­ti­cal mis­take when it began to focus on con­trol­ling parts of Anbar province, and run­ning it like a fief­dom, rather than fight­ing the Amer­i­can occu­piers and the ille­git­i­mate gov­ern­ment it had estab­lished in Bagh­dad. It extracted taxes from local busi­nesses to fund their oper­a­tions and began to fight whomever would sub­mit to them, includ­ing other groups resist­ing the Amer­i­can pres­ence. In addi­tion, when ISI did fight the occu­pa­tion, more often than not large num­bers of inno­cent civil­ians got killed. These behav­iors lead the Sunni tribes of Anbar to turn against ISI. They united in what even­tu­ally became known as the “Sahwa Move­ment” to remove Al Qaeda from Anbar. Based on the idea that the “enemy of my enemy is my friend”, the Sahwa Move­ment col­lab­o­rated with the Amer­i­cans and the gov­ern­ment they had estab­lished in Bagh­dad for this pur­pose. By 2009, the part­ner­ship had essen­tially removed the influ­ence of ISI in Anbar province, after which the Amer­i­cans with­drew their army from the area and the Iraqi army and police took over the respon­si­bil­ity for con­trol­ling the area. [8]
Shortly after the power tran­si­tion, how­ever, new trou­bles began to emerge in Anbar. Dur­ing the upris­ing against ISI the fight­ers of the Sahwa Move­ment had been paid by the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary. Part of the deal behind the coop­er­a­tion between the Sahwa Move­ment, the Amer­i­cans and the gov­ern­ment they had estab­lished in Bagh­dad, was a promise that after the defeat of Al Qaeda the Sahwa fight­ers would be absorbed into the Iraqi army and pol­icy such that the pay­ments to them would be con­tin­ued. How­ever, after vic­tory was achieved Amer­ica and the gov­ern­ment they had estab­lished in Bagh­dad reneged on their part of the deal. Only a frac­tion of the Sahwa fight­ers were actu­ally given posi­tions in the Iraqi secu­rity appa­ra­tus, but with­out excep­tion at lower lev­els of these orga­ni­za­tions as the posi­tions of lead­er­ship were handed out to peo­ple from the Shi’a com­mu­nity that were more close to the Iraqi gov­ern­ment in Bagdad.
Obvi­ously this was seen as betrayal by the tribal lead­ers in Anbar. The Iraqi gov­ern­ment in Bag­dad then exe­cuted a com­pre­hen­sive pol­icy of mar­gin­al­iza­tion of Sun­nis, includ­ing arrest and mur­der of their polit­i­cal lead­ers, claim­ing that the dis­sat­is­fac­tion on the side of the Sun­nis from Anbar province showed they were not loyal to the new Iraqi state. [9]
The cur­rent uprising
It is not cor­rect to see the expul­sion of the cen­tral gov­ern­ment from the town of Mosul on the 10th of June as the start of the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion of unrest in Anbar province. Mosul would more accu­rately be described as a chain in a series of events, the ori­gin of which can be traced back to Decem­ber of 2012.
Dur­ing that month, namely, the pol­icy of mar­gin­al­iza­tion and oppres­sion of the Sun­nis in Anbar by the Iraqi gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad lead to mass protests in all major cities in the province. The trig­ger for these protests was the arrest of a promi­nent Sunni politi­cians from Anbar province named Rafi al Issawi, the finance min­is­ter in the Maliki gov­ern­ment. [10]
The Iraqi gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad responded to the gath­er­ing of thou­sands of peo­ple on the streets of Anbar by send­ing in both hired thugs and the national army. Dur­ing the course of Jan­u­ary and Feb­ru­ary 2013 these thugs sup­ported by the army attacked the demon­stra­tors on numer­ous occa­sions, with mul­ti­ple casu­al­ties as a result. The Iraqi gov­ern­ment in jus­ti­fied this heavy handed approach by claim­ing Al Qaeda in Iraq was behind the protests and was using them to strengthen its posi­tion. It even claimed the head­quar­ters of the protest move­ment in Ramadi was in fact the Al Qaeda in Iraq head­quar­ters. Under this cover it sent the army into Ramadi dur­ing Decem­ber of 2013 to arrest one of the lead­ers of the protest move­ment, an MP from Anbar province named Ahmed al Alwani. [11] Dur­ing the arrest some of Al Alwani’s body­guards were killed, in response to which Islamic lead­ers in Anbar province called upon all Sun­nis to take up arms against the Iraqi gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad. Just a few days later, on the 4th of Jan­u­ary 2014, armed rebels took con­trol of Fal­lu­jah and parts of Ramadi. From there the armed upris­ing spread until on the 10th of June Mosul was taken. [12]
The objec­tive of the cur­rent upris­ing and the role of ISIS
In an inter­view on Al Ara­biyya one of the tribal lead­ers in Anbar, Sheikh Ali Hatem al Suleiman, stated that the rebel­lion in Anbar was due to three key com­plaints by the peo­ple of Anbar:
Firstly, the break­ing of promises to the Sahwa Move­ment by Amer­ica and the Iraqi gov­ern­ment in Baghdad.
Sec­ondly, the pol­icy of mar­gin­al­iza­tion and oppres­sion of the Sun­nis in Anbar by the Iraqi gov­ern­ment in Baghdad.
Thirdly, the ignor­ing by the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity – lead by Amer­ica – of the com­plaints of the Sunni Mus­lims in response to the first two points.
Sheikh Ali clar­i­fied that the objec­tive of the upris­ing was not to take over Bagh­dad, or to wage a sec­tar­ian war against the Shi’a and Kurds in Iraq. The actions taken had been cho­sen to put pres­sure on the Iraqi gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad, to force Prime Min­is­ter Nouri Al Maliki to step down and to form a new unity gov­ern­ment in the place of the sec­tar­ian gov­ern­ment he had established.
When asked about the role of Al Qaeda in the upris­ing, in par­tic­u­lar the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)” (fol­low­ing the start of the rev­o­lu­tion in Syria the Islamic State in Iraq moved across the bor­der into Syria and added “and Syria” to its name) Sheikh Ali made three impor­tant points.
Firstly, he said that Nouri Al Maliki had a his­tory of shout­ing “Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda” when­ever peo­ple rose up against his oppres­sive sec­tar­ian poli­cies, with the aim of gath­er­ing inter­na­tional sup­port for his poli­cies. Sec­ondly, the Sheikh said that ISIS was only a very small minor­ity amongst the rebels in Anbar of max­i­mum five to seven per­cent of all armed fight­ers. To prove his point the Sheikh referred to the speed at which the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Iraqi gov­ern­ment had been removed from Anbar province and the lim­ited amount of fight­ing that had been require to achieve this. Clearly, he said, these facts showed that the tribes of Anbar were at the heart of the rebel­lion since no other party or move­ment could have had so much suc­cess, so fast, with so lit­tle effort. Thirdly, he said that the tribes of Anbar had always resisted ter­ror­ism and he ref­er­enced the sup­port of the Anbar tribes in root­ing out Al Qaeda dur­ing 2007 – 2009. This stance of the tribes vis-à-vis ter­ror­ism had not changed, he said. When asked why then the tribes allowed ISIS to be a part of the upris­ing, the Sheikh explained that the first pri­or­ity of the upris­ing in Anbar was to stop the oppres­sive poli­cies of the Iraqi gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad and that as soon as the Iraqi gov­ern­ment in Bagh­dad gives in to the demands of the tribes, the tribes would deal with the rem­nants of Al Qaeda in their midst. [13]
Part 2 will look at the objec­tive of the upris­ing and the role the ISIS is play­ing. It will also asses who ben­e­fits form the cri­sis and who poten­tially loses out

[1] “The Engi­neered Destruc­tion and Polit­i­cal Frag­men­ta­tion of Iraq. Towards the Cre­ation of a USSpon­sored Islamist Caliphate”, Pro­fes­sor Michael Chos­su­dovsky,
[2] “The Implod­ing of America’s Iraq”, Adnan Khan,
[3] “‘Proxy wars’ caused Iraq unrest”, Dec­can Chron­i­cle,’proxy-wars’-caused-iraq-unrest
[5] “Exclu­sive inter­view: why I defected from Bashar al-Assad’s regime, by for­mer diplo­mat Nawaf Fares”, The Tele­graph,
[7] “Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria”, Coun­cil on For­eign Rela­tions,
[8] “Iraq’s Tribal ‘Sahwa’: Its Rise and Fall”, Mid­dle East Pol­icy Coun­cil,
[10] “Ten­sions Rise in Bagh­dad with Raid on Offi­cial”, The New York Times,
[11] “Iraq secu­rity forces arrest MP in deadly raid, Al Jazeera,
[13] “Inter­view with Anbar tribal Sheikh Ali Hatem al Suleiman”, Al Ara­biyya,

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