10 years ago
It has been reported that dozens of al-Qaeda linked gunmen took to the streets in Ramadi on Wednesday to announce that the city was joining a new Sunni Islamic state. The gunmen are purported to be part of the Mujahideen Shura Council. This al-Qaeda led group is comprised of Mujahideed fighters loyal to Saddam. The gunmen also announced that all Sunni provinces would be part of the Islamic state. In what might be an exaggeration of the story above, Aljazeera is reporting that there were hundreds of fighters rather than dozens of fighters. Continuing with the Aljazeera report:
Abu Harith said the state would be headed by Amir Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, a little-known militant, and would include the Sunni areas of Baghdad, the provinces of Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Salah al-Din, Nineveh and parts of Babil and Wasit.
Following these demonstrations, Friday saw similar demonstrations in the al Anbar towns of Bani, Daher, Rwah, Haditha and Haqlaniyah. In these last two cities, the demonstrations were held within one kilometer of U.S. military bases.
It might be tempting to see these reports as an indication of the weakness of the Sunni insurgents in al Anbar. After all, dozens of fighters is barely a group of criminals in a city the size of Ramadi. But this view would be a mistake. Some tribes in the so-called Sunni triangle have vowed to oppose al-Qaeda and the Shura Council, but we have pointed out that there isn’t unanimity among the al Anbar tribes to fight al-Qaeda. Moreover, the chieftans of the tribes who have agreed to fight al-Qaeda are the heads of small tribes, and some of the chiefs reside outside of Iraq for fear of assasination. Al-Qaeda is strong enough not only to wreak havoc and violence, but to cause fear among the larger population in al Anbar. But the demonstration was not about either al Qaeda or the Sunni insurgents driving the U.S. out of al Anbar, although they want to use that as a means to an end.
The Washington Post article cited above stated the reason for the demonstrations:
” … to protect our religion and our people, to prevent strife and so that the blood and sacrifices of your martyrs are not lost.”
Don’t mistake this protection as being primarily from the U.S. Rather, it is from the Shia. Stratfor is also reporting that “this is a response to the Shiite-controlled parliament’s decision to pass a law that allows provinces to form federal regions because the law weakens Sunnis.” In the face of al Sadr’s death squads taking revenge on the Sunnis who have repressed the Shia for years, along with the potential loss of wealth of the Sunni provinces, they are fighting back against what they see as the potential repression of the Sunnis.
To be sure, for al-Qaeda and the Council to embark upon their plan to turn the Sunni triangle into an Islamic stronghold for their “holy fighters,” the U.S. will have to be gone. But right now the U.S. is yet another tribe in a region where tribes have cut deals, aligned themselves for and against al Qaeda, and are defending themselves daily against Shia death squads. The 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, is reporting that the area they find themselves in is not safe. But it is “safer than when the Marines had arrived.”
Without the presence of U.S. troops to fight with, there was plenty of animosity to drive the violence due to Shia – Sunni tensions. The demonstrations, the violence and the politics are all preparatory for when the U.S. presence is not determinative in the direction al Anbar takes. Sooner or later, they apparently feel, the stronger tribe will be gone. The recent Makkah pact forbids Shiite-Sunni killings, and the hope is apparently that this will provide some ideological underpinnings for stability.
In the mean time, the bravery of the Marines and Soldiers in al Anbar speaks to their character, as Ramadi and the surrounding and adjacent cities are still the most dangerous places in Iraq, and perhaps the world.