Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Widespread opposition has grown against Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s plan to hold a “national unity” conference aimed at resolving the ongoing security crisis in Iraq’s restive Anbar province—even among tribes from the region that nominally support the government in its battle against the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.
A number of tribal sheikhs in Anbar who are allied with the government met in Baghdad yesterday. The head of the tribal Anbar Awakening Council, Wessam Al-Hardan, told a press conference in Baghdad after the meeting that “our small meeting came to discuss the initiative of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki to resolve the Anbar crisis, unify efforts, and to bury differences.”
He added: “We welcome all political and social forces, unions, and clerics to join us in finding a solution to the Anbar crisis—except [ISIS].”
The Anbar Awakening Council has been working against ISIS alongside the government in Anbar, Iraq’s largest province. It was joined in Baghdad yesterday by, among others, representatives of the Foundation Council of the Sons of Iraq, led by Mohamed Al-Hayis.
Hayis’s son was killed by ISIS militants during the predominately Sunni protests in Anbar late last year. He has accused the leaders of those demonstrations—notably the Iraq Awakening Council head Ahmed Abu Risha—of being involved in his son’s murder.
Now, leaders of the tribal forces working alongside Maliki’s government against ISIS are accusing authorities in Baghdad of appeasing Abu Risha and his allies at the expense of security in Anbar by calling the national unity conference.
Fares Ibrahim, a member of the Sons of Iraq, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The Anbar Awakening and Sons of Iraq were disappointed when the government rehabilitated those who stood against us in the sit-ins and those against whom arrest warrants were issued, as well as others.”
“This includes Ahmed Abu Risha, who has now come back to the fold after he realized that the national forces, rather than those who raised the banners of war . . . have the upper hand,” he added, referring to ISIS.
“The people of Anbar today need those who can stand by them against ISIS, not just conferences, although we welcome them [the conferences]. But we cannot accept that those who made sacrifices are put on an equal footing with those who were accused of terrorism,” he said in reference to Abu Risha and others in similar positions.
“These issues must be clear in the conference, because we are facing a fierce enemy,” Ibrahim continued.
For his part, Sheikh Hamid Al-Kartani, a Fallujah tribal leader, echoed these concerns in comments to Asharq Al-Awsat: “This conference called by Maliki is an attempt not to unify stances and visions between the people of Anbar in the face of the terrorist organizations, as they claim, but to clear the air between the sheikhs and the Awakening Councils who support the government but have disagreements among themselves.”
He described the step to call for a conference as “ridiculous,” saying: “They are all on the side of the government. Some of them live in Baghdad and cannot make their way to Anbar, but each one of them sees that they are the ones backed by the people and they all try to exclude the others. This [conference] may give the government a tactical advantage by enabling it to control all sides, but it is of no use when it comes to confronting the trained and united militants.”
Launched last Wednesday by Maliki during his weekly radio address, the initiative does not yet have a working agenda. Both local governments and the provincial council in Anbar have indicated they were not consulted on the initiative in advance.