What’s next for Anbar?

Fahdawi added that the real post-liberation problem revolves around how to maintain security in the province, due to its large surface area and location on Iraq’s western border.

“The Tribal Mobilization Forces must be maintained, either by keeping them under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Units or by converting them into an Anbar National Guard force — keeping in mind that the National Guard law remains pending in Iraq’s parliament,” he said.

The Iraqi government had started to assist US forces in training tribe members in Anbar in summer 2015. In September 2015, the Tribal Mobilization Forces were established, with the aim of fighting IS alongside the official Iraqi forces.

Fahdawi expressed concern about a repeat of the Sahwa experience, “which suffered from neglect with most of their members relegated to civilian duties leading to the governorate losing the services of those truly capable of maintaining security. We do not mind receiving international cooperation to protect Anbar’s security, but any such coordination must be temporary, for, in the long term, no one can protect Anbar but its tribesmen.”

Anbar militants are estimated to number more than 10,000 individuals, equipped and armed by the central government and trained by US special forces units. Tribal Mobilization Forces, currently battling IS in Sunni cities, face a fate similar to that of former Sahwa forces. These forces had fought al-Qaeda before some of them formed political parties that partook in local and general elections. Many members of the Sahwa were ultimately awarded posts by the central government in various ministries.

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