Behind the Anbar myth
Petraeus' key argument this week to prove his steering of the Bush-devised "surge" was a "success" was to spin the close collaboration between the occupation and the Shi'ite-dominated Iraqi government in Baghdad on the one side with Sunni tribal leaders in al-Anbar province on the other. Petraeus framed it as if this "sustainable" solution was a huge counterinsurgency success of his own making. Nothing could be further from the truth.As I reported here Anbar is no success story.
The success story in Anbar is not due to the general's wily ways, but to an Iraqi sheikh: Abdul Satter Abu Risha, the leader of a coalition of tribes, including 200 sheikhs, formed in the autumn of 2006 under the name Anbar Sovereignty Council (now it's called Iraq Awakening).
Asia Times Online talked to Abu Risha this past spring in Iraq. He explained, crucially, that he had set up the council after his father and two brothers were killed by al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers. Yes, it was personal. Petraeus then joined the bandwagon. Abu Risha is not, and never was, a Salafi-jihadi. He considers himself an Iraqi nationalist. He's not in favor of a caliphate. But he's definitely in favor of restored power to Sunni Iraqis.
Petraeus was indeed smart enough to marvel at the possibilities of a marriage of convenience between the occupation and Sunni tribes. Al-Qaeda for its part was clumsy enough to force "Talibanization" down Anbar people's throats. But this does not mean that Abu Risha and his 200 tribal leaders are pro-occupation, or even pro-Iraqi government. Eighty percent of these tribes are sub-clans of the very powerful Dulaimi tribe. Al-Qaeda's close relationship is with the Mashadani tribe, which used to be very close to Saddam Hussein. What matters is that with varying degrees of disgust, both big tribes detest the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad.
Way beyond any "success" claimed by Petraeus, what's happening in Anbar is once again a replay of what happened in eastern Afghanistan in 2001. Local tribes profit from US largesse - and weapons - and then proceed with their own tribal and/or nationalist agenda. What matters for all these players, most of all, is restoration of Sunni power. The Dulaimi tribe and sub-clans, armed by the Americans, as soon as they have a chance, will try to topple the US-sponsored puppet government in Baghdad.
Withdrawal timetable aside, every Anbar respondent in our survey opposed the presence of American forces in Iraq — 69 percent “strongly” so. Every Anbar respondent called attacks on coalition forces “acceptable,” far more than anywhere else in the country. All called the United States-led invasion wrong, including 68 percent who called it “absolutely wrong.”But it's even worse than that. I heard Tom Ricks, the military reporter from the Washington Post on NPR the other day who said it simply isn't so. The "bottom up" - "local solutions' are nothing more than the US undermining the central government and arming both sides of an enhanced civil war. The General Petraeus and Bush administration's "success" is only fueling a civil war.