Iraq Pulse

Will conflict continue as Iraq's Sunni areas are liberated from IS?

Article Summary
A new type of conflict may arise in Iraqi areas recently liberated from the Islamic State as different Sunni forces compete to regain political and economic control.

BAGHDAD — On June 28, the Anbar provincial council voted to dismiss Gov. Suhaib al-Rawi, who is a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party. While the dismissal came as a result of a political conflict within the province, Rawi said he "rejects the decision of his dismissal" as he threatened to "resort to both the law and the judiciary to challenge the Anbar council's vote."

Meanwhile, the Iraqi Islamic Party, headed by former Speaker Ayad al-Samarrai, is trying to restore its presence and regain control over Sunni areas by trying to control the Anbar reconstruction dossier.

For his part, the head of the Sunni Endowment, Diwan Abdul Latif Al-Hamim, who joined the dispute over Sunni areas, is trying to stop the expansion of the Iraqi Islamic Party as he continues to expand his influence there. Al-Masalla website published a report in May showing that each of the aforementioned parties are exploiting their influence on Sunni tribal forces to expand their dominance in Anbar province. Hamim had used the humanitarian crisis plaguing the Sunni province in his favor. However, he is facing major obstacles that have led to a conflict with the Iraqi Islamic Party, as revealed by the leader of the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, Saleh al-Mutlaq.

Therefore, one can say that the Sunni community in Iraq is becoming disunited, given the multiplicity and dispersion of its political and religious leaders. Also, Sunnis need religious and political figures who can unite them, and this is depriving them of an identity that could influence political elites. Despite this dire need, Rawi's supporters handed a request to the Iraqi parliament on July 4 to divide Anbar province into two parts; this would create western Anbar as a new province, where he would be able to remain governor.

There have always been differences within Sunni parties and tribes in those areas, but it is only after the events of June 10, 2014, when the Islamic State (IS) took control of the city of Mosul in northern Iraq, that major indicators of these differences started to emerge and grow.

For instance, after the Camp Speicher massacre on June 11, 2014, in which IS captured 1,700 Iraqi soldiers in Salahuddin province and killed them, some Sunni tribes accused others of cooperating with IS and carrying out the executions.

The conflict in Anbar province is economic as well as political. For example, some political parties and figures have divided Ramadi, which was liberated from IS on Dec. 23, into several areas as far as the district's reconstruction dossier is concerned in order for companies that these political forces back to get contracts there.

Anbar's reconstruction is one of the aspects of the conflict that may break out between Sunni parties and figures in the coming period. Armed forces for the province have finally been constituted: the Tribal Popular Mobilization made up of Sunni fighters and the Shield Tribes, which are supposed to control Iraq's borders with Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The conflict that is specifically expected within the Sunni areas once liberated from IS may result in the emergence of new armed groups that could work against the Iraqi government and attempt to control those areas. All of these indications show that a Sunni-Sunni conflict is looming.

In a telephone interview with Al-Monitor, Sunni lawmaker Abdul Rahman al-Wayzi said, "Once the Sunni areas are liberated from IS, these will experience armed political conflicts between [Sunni] parties and figures who are eager to get political and geographical influence over those areas. This will put the Iraqi government in a difficult phase that may be even more serious than the current one."

All of these political and social crises could turn into an armed conflict between Sunni partisan and social sides at a time when some of those parties or social groups still feel marginalized and excluded by the current government headed by Haider al-Abadi. Therefore, knowing that they oppose the current political regime, Abadi needs to change the Sunnis' point of view and rid them of their fear of the regime installed by his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki.

Iraqi author and journalist Hamza Mustafa told Al-Monitor, "Two conflicts may erupt in Sunni areas once their towns are liberated from IS. The first is a political struggle over state institutions, while the second is an economic struggle over the provincial reconstruction projects, which is dangerous, especially in Anbar province, which includes tribes, some of which work with IS while others cooperate with the Iraqi government."

Most of the Sunnis feel they are not involved in the decision-making process. The Sunni street does not respect many of the province's official Sunni leaders, who have been dubbed "the Sunnis of Maliki." Therefore, political leaders ought to rearrange the Sunni political, security and social situation. Otherwise, the Sunni community will turn into a rebellious one that does not heed the seriousness of the looming conflict.

Prospects look gloomy. If political or armed conflict re-emerges in the Sunni areas, there may be a delay in the return of the displaced. And if the displaced do return and a conflict erupts between Sunni leaders, parties or communities, then a new wave of displacement may take place.

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Found in: tribal areas, nouri al-maliki, iraqi domestic politics, iraq crises, is, haider al-abadi, anbar province

Mustafa Saadoun is an Iraqi journalist covering human rights and also the founder and director of the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights. He formerly worked as a reporter for the Iraqi Council of Representatives. On Twitter: @SaadoonMustafa

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