By John Lee.
Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, head of one side of the anti-Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham “Sons of Anbar” movement has condemned a series of attacks on bridges in the province trying to cut it off from the rest of Iraq.
The Sheikh was typically defiant in his recent statement:
“The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has lost the battle in Anbar and is trying to move its evil acts to other provinces by implementing bombings in several Iraqi cities. The ISIS aims to separate Anbar province from other parts of Iraq, in order to make it a base for evil and murder.The determination of the sons of Anbar province and the security forces of the local police and the Iraqi army heroes foiled this scheme.”
The “awakening” (Sahwa) movement headed by his late father Abdul Sattar Abu Risha has splintered into groups which are firmly pro-Maliki and groups which were once working with the US but are now reluctant to work with the Iraqi army and police, leading to a fluid and confusing situation on the ground.
Many Sunnis have continually protested that the armed forces frequently behave in a sectarian manner.
Others claim the Shi’a dominated Iraqi government is controlled by Iran, a fear exacerbated by Maliki’s targeting of political opponents which has included some prominent Sunni leaders and some members of the Sahwa. Close ties between Iran and some Iraqi parties have not helped this perception.
Nonetheless, Maliki has recently tried to win Sunni hearts and minds, pledging to increase the number of Sahwa members integrated into the security forces and increasing government funds for the province.
But some analysts think it may be too late for those that have lost trust in the PM.
The UN estimates that there are already 400,000 displaced people in the province despite the Iraqi Security Forces intentionally holding back from an all out assault on Fallujah, the center of ISIS sympathy in al-Anbar.
The insurgency itself also remains fragmented, including a shaky alliance of neo-Ba’athist groups and members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham, the cross border insurgent group which is fighting to unify Iraq and Syria under a fiercely strict interpretation of Islam. ISIS (formerly al-Qaeda in Iraq) remain a small but highly potent minority group.
For now, the multitude of divisions among Anbaris in the insurgency and Anbaris wanting an end to the crisis means that the situation remains chaotic, with no group of belligerents gaining the upper hand.
Arguably, residents of Ramadi (pictured) where Abu Risha is based typify the extent of division over the way forward for Iraq’s Sunnis. By contrast, Fallujah has been declared by ISIS to be an Islamic state.
For Maliki and the Iraqi electorate, the situation may not be out of hand yet but this simply may not be good enough as the general election draws near. If elections are delayed in al-Anbar, something which now appears likely, then this will in no way help the crisis.