RAMADI - US attempts to win over tribal collaborators in al-Anbar province
have won it more enemies instead.
The US military has launched one of its biggest operations to date to regain
control of the province, to the west of Baghdad. It had lost control over the
region more than a year back.
The province, which represents a third of the total area of the country and
is inhabited by roughly 2.5 million people, mostly Sunni Muslims, has stood
firm against the US occupation of Iraq since the early days of occupation
that began in March 2003.
Fallujah, the second biggest city in the province after the capital Ramadi,
ignited fierce resistance to US forces after they killed 17 unarmed demonstrators
protesting in front of a school occupied by the military in May 2003.
Resistance then spread to Khalidiya, 80 km west of Baghdad, then Ramadi, 105
km west of Baghdad, and reaching Hit, Haditha and then al-Qa'im on the Syrian
Massive US military operations have brought short-term victories, but turned
people more and more strongly against the occupation. The province remains the
most dangerous for occupation forces, and attacks have continued to escalate.
This year US military authorities worked to firm up a tribal coalition that
they said would oppose al-Qaeda terror groups fighting against US forces.
Unnamed officials in the Bush administration have made claims to reporters
that the move has reduced violence in al-Anbar, but residents in the area think
"The American Army failed to control the situation in al-Anbar province
through military attacks that killed thousands of civilians, so they decided
to set up local militias," former Iraqi Army colonel Jabbar Ahmad from
Ramadi told IPS.
"It started with the so-called campaign 'Awakening of al-Anbar', then
it developed into forming 'The Revolutionary Force for Anbar Salvation,'"
Hamid Alwani, a prominent tribal leader in Ramadi told IPS. "This was supposed
to be a local fight between al-Qaeda and the local people of al-Anbar, but in
fact we all realized the Americans meant us to fight our brothers of the Iraqi
Alwani said "most tribal sheikhs opposed the idea" and made it clear
to US military commanders that they would never be part of the US plan. "It
seems that the Americans have started to realize their mistake now."
Few tribal groups are backing US forces any more.
Ali Hatem Ali Suleiman, leader of the Dulaim confederation, a tribal organization
in al-Anbar, told reporters recently in his Baghdad office that the Revolutionary
Force for Anbar Salvation would be dissolved because of increasing internal
Opposition has grown against one of the council leaders, Abdul Sattar Abu Risha,
whom Suleiman called a "traitor" and someone who "sells his beliefs,
his religion and his people for money."
Any Iraqi working with the US military is now opposed by most people in the
"Sattar is well known as a former criminal," a tribal leader in al-Anbar
who asked to be referred to as Hatam told IPS. "The Americans are now spoiling
him like a favorite child."
A well-respected leader in Fallujah told IPS on condition of anonymity that
"Shi'ite leaders had their doubts about him from the beginning, but the desperate
Americans thought he was the best solution to their failure in al-Anbar."
Abu Risha has been living in Amman, Jordan for several months now.
And there is growing doubt how much influence he has. "The Suleiman family
who were called the princes of al-Dulaim tribes have no power in Iraq,"
Mohammad al-Dulaimy, a historian from al-Anbar told IPS in Ramadi. "They
were assigned leaders by the British occupation (during the 1920's) and everyone
in Iraq knows that."
Al-Dulaimy added, "As soon as the British left Iraq, those guys lost power
and went abroad. They then found a chance to return under the American flag."
Others see the promotion of Abu Risha as a failed attempt by occupation forces
to apply divide and rule tactics in the province.
"I do not see this working amidst the obvious division amongst tribal
leaders looking for power," a professor at the University of al-Anbar in
Ramadi, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS. "People here know
each other and they knew from the beginning that those warlords would fight
over power and money one day."
But such co-opting has not in any case lessened violence. "All the new
militia did was increase tensions among the local community," local cameraman
Fowaz Abdulla told IPS. "Americans are getting killed by the day and these
militias are just executing people just like Shi'ite militias in Baghdad and the
southern parts of Iraq."
Policemen loyal to tribal leaders in the Revolutionary Force for Anbar Salvation
have told reporters that the US military provided them weapons, funding and
other items like uniforms, body armor, pickup trucks and helmets, besides paying
loyal tribal fighters 900 dollars a month.
(Inter Press Service)