Academic journal article Military Review

Western Anbar after the Awakening: A Tale of Three Cities

Academic journal article Military Review

Western Anbar after the Awakening: A Tale of Three Cities

Article excerpt

After the Islamic State (IS) seized control of Fallujah in January 2014, it extended its territory to most of Iraq's three Sunni majority provinces (shown in figure 1, page 109)-Anbar, Salah ad Din, and Ninawa-by the end of the year. IS capitalized on the marginalization of Iraq's Sunni Arabs, particularly in the armed forces. Rather than reconciling with the Sunnis as it recaptured the major cities in these provinces in 2015, 2016, and 2017, Baghdad gradually displaced and eroded Iraq's Sunni Arab community, leaving behind millions of internally displaced persons and empty, pockmarked cities such as Fallujah, Ramadi, Tikrit, and Mosul.1 Not surprisingly, as early as 2015, alleged atrocities and ethnic cleansing by Shiite militias undermined efforts to bring about a new Sunni Awakening, prompting calls for the deployment of U.S. troops.2

In November 2017, Iraqi forces recaptured the last IS-held town in western Anbar.3 And, during the two-year campaign to defeat IS, U.S. advisors were once again training Iraqi counterparts at Al Asad Airbase in western Anbar, as well as advising and accompanying them in battle against IS in Tal Afar.4 Consequently, it is not inconceivable that U.S. forces could be directed to assist in rebuilding local security forces after the defeat of IS. This is the role that U.S. forces played in the Anbar Awakening in 2006, and it required advisors to become deeply involved in recruiting and training Iraqi army and police units, thereby determining which tribes controlled local security. There is no guarantee that such an approach would be successful again, particularly given Baghdad's systematic disenfranchisement of Sunnis following the U.S. withdrawal in 2011. Nevertheless, it is instructive to reexamine the previous U.S. tribal engagement in Anbar as U.S. advisors once again plan for phases IV (stabilize) and V (enable civil authority) of joint operations.5

The period of five years following the Anbar Awakening offers important lessons and highlights potential consequences for such a tribe-based counterinsurgency strategy. Case studies of the three main western Anbar towns of Hit, Haditha, and Al Qaim from 2010 to 2014 suggest that where outside tribes are used to secure towns or where powerful tribes are excluded from local security forces, the stability achieved may be fleeting.

Western Anbar

Anbar is dominated by desert and is the largest by area of Iraq's nineteen provinces; it can be divided into a sparsely populated west bordering Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, and a more densely populated east on the outskirts of Baghdad.6 Since 2003, western Anbar's Sunni Bedouin population-with its homogeneous culture, religion, and ethnicity-has provided fertile ground for insurgent safe havens, recruitment, and training.7 And, as far back as 1995, Iraq's government considered dividing Anbar into two provinces because it was too difficult to govern and because tribal leaders in the west lobbied for more autonomy in order to compete more effectively with Ramadi and Fallujah for government resources.8 Today, Anbar's security forces are divided into western and eastern regions.9

In 2009, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that over half of the province's one million residents lived in the two eastern cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, while the remainder were distributed among six districts with populations ranging from twenty thousand to over one hundred thousand residents.10 These are Hit, Haditha, Anah, Rawah, Al Qaim, and Rutbah. Each district has as its administrative center a town of the same name, and all of these towns, other than Rutbah, are located along the Euphrates River between Ramadi and the Syrian border.

Western Anbar is bisected by an east-west highway running from Baghdad through Fallujah, Ramadi, and Rutbah to Amman, Jordan. A second highway follows the Euphrates River running northwest from Ramadi through or nearby Hit, Haditha, Anah, and Rawah to Al Qaim on the Syrian border and continues on to Aleppo, Syria. …

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