Monday, January 6, 2014

Iraq Update 2014 #4: Anbaris Weigh Negotiations with Maliki

National repercussions from the Anbar events continue. In a startling development Wasit police commander General Raed Shakir Jawdat announced on January 4 that 9,000 people have volunteeredto fight in Anbar against al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). This number is very high and unlikely to be completely accurate. However, the effort to sign up people is another expression of Iraqi Shi’a unity at a time when sectarian tension across Iraq is running high.

In another key development, a group namedthe Military Council of Anbar Revolutionaries emerged as of January 5. It appears to be taking the lead as a tribal force in Anbar that is both anti-government and anti-AQI. The group’s rhetoric is similar to Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqah al-Naqshabandia’s (JRTN), a Ba‘athist militant organization suspected to be active in northern Iraq. Such a force may channel the energies of the Anbari tribes and generate a Sunni national defense force.   

Meanwhile, new political motions to express specific demands of the Iraqi government emerged. Anbar’s provincial council met and stated that there are five conditions for decreasing tensions with the government of Iraq, including the releaseof detained member of the Council of Representative Ahmed al-Alwani. Osama al-Nujaifi also proposed a political summit to ease tensions in Ramadi and Fallujah after meeting with UN representative in Iraq Nicolai Mladenov. Their position is still not unanimous. Iraqiyya leader Ayad Allawi called for all of the ministers in the government except for PM Maliki’s State of Law Alliance to withdrawif conditions in Anbar continue. Allawi does not exert direct control over any political office, but his call may still lead to an emerging front to boycott the political process.

The security situation in Fallujah has also changed as of January 6. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called on tribes and the people of Fallujah to expel “terrorists” from the cities in order to avert an attack. In Fallujah, reports indicatethat the Iraqi Army had withdrawn from the city’s eastern limits after an agreement was reached between the military and the Anbar provincial council on January 6. There are alsoreportedly negotiations between local government officials and tribes in Fallujah to negotiate a solution to the city’s crisis. These efforts likely indicate the desire of the tribes to seek the military’s withdrawal, though they leave uncertain whether AQI has actually been cleared from Fallujah. There are also reportsof clashes between an Iraqi Army convoy and tribal forces on the Fallujah highway the same day, demonstrating that anti-government sentiment is still high.

Outside of Fallujah, Iraqi Army Aviation is reported to have targeteda column of AQI fighters in the Garma area north of Fallujah. Garma has witnessed continuous clashes and shelling due to the presence of armed gunmen, possibly AQI. Meanwhile, security forces have launcheda campaign against AQI in Northern Babil’s Jurf al-Sakhr area, southeast of Fallujah, which ISW has assessed as a possible emerging zone of control by AQI. The ISF approached the area on October 8 and became engaged in a prolonged gun battle with 300 gunmen. This is likely an area from which AQI’s assaults upon Fallujah and Abu Ghraib are launched. Another indicator of AQI activities is a mortar attackon January 6 against a police station in Jurf al-Sakhr that resulted in civilian casualties who live to the station. For today, it appears that violence in Fallujah has paused, while violence in these outlying areas has increased. For de-escalation in Anbar to take place, and in order to avert high Sunni civilian casualties, a negotiated solution for Fallujah must succeed.