US embassy cable - 07BAGHDAD2229

ANBAR TRIBAL POLITICS: LOOKING AHEAD TO THE POST-WAR PERIOD

Identifier: 07BAGHDAD2229
Wikileaks: View 07BAGHDAD2229 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Baghdad
Created: 2007-07-05 11:09:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PINS KDEM IZ
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
VZCZCXRO3534
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHIHL RUEHKUK
DE RUEHGB #2229/01 1861109
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 051109Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2054
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 BAGHDAD 002229 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/02/2017 
TAGS: PGOV, PINS, KDEM, IZ 
SUBJECT: ANBAR TRIBAL POLITICS:  LOOKING AHEAD TO THE 
POST-WAR PERIOD 
 
Classified by PRT Anbar leader James Soriano, reasons 1.4 (b) 
and (d). 
 
1.  (U) This is a PRT Anbar reporting cable. 
 
2.  (C) Summary.  A struggle for tribal leadership is 
underway in Anbar Province, as Ali Hatem, a young sheikh of 
prominent lineage seeks to replace Sheikh Sattar Abu Risha, 
the tribal leader responsible for evicting Al-Qaeda from 
Ramadi.  Sattar has done much to tip the battlefield in our 
favor.  Al-Qaeda is on the defensive.  Public opinion has 
turned against Hatem and the tribes are mobilized to oppose 
him.  Amid improved security, there is a mood of rising 
expectations for responsive local government.  Those 
expectations themselves are a sign that public opinion has 
shifted away from estrangement from Baghdad to getting on 
with reconstruction.  In this context rival tribal factions 
are jockeying for position in the post-conflict period.  The 
Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP) has questionable clout, but should 
not be discounted.  It is possible that its clerical base can 
revive its prospects.  Sattar holds the IIP in contempt, 
holding it up as the source of Anbar,s woes.  He, like many 
other Anbaris, view the Provincial Council as illegitimate, 
as it was formed on scant voter turnout in the boycotted 2005 
poll.  In our view, provincial council elections would not be 
a threat to Coalition interests.  Elections here would more 
likely consolidate security gains and result in the 
continuation of pragmatists in public office who would 
cooperate with us and seek accommodation with Baghdad.  End 
Summary. 
 
Tribal Power Challenge 
---------------------- 
 
3.  (U) A power struggle among influential tribal sheikhs in 
Anbar Province has spilled onto the world press in recent 
weeks.  The opening salvo was a June 11 story in the 
&Washington Post,8 which described fissures inside the 
Anbar Awakening Council (SAA), the group of anti-insurgent 
sheikhs based in Ramadi.   In that story, SAA founding member 
Sheikh Ali Hatem Suleiman predicts that the SAA would soon 
splinter because of membership disaffection with its leader, 
Sheikh Sattar Abu Risha.  The cause of that dissatisfaction, 
Ali Hatem, did not make clear, apart from charging that 
Sattar made a fortune as an oil smuggler.  Ali Hatem, the 
35-year-old scion of the powerful Duleimi tribal 
confederation, called Sattar a &traitor8 who &sells his 
beliefs, his religion, and he people for money.8  He 
repeated his accusation of Sattar,s criminal activity in the 
June 22 &Philadelphia Inquirer.8 
 
4. (SBU) Ali Hatem,s prediction of the splintering of the 
SAA apparently came to pass on June 20, when a gathering of 
SAA sheikhs at Sattar,s compound in Ramadi revoked Ali 
Hatem,s affiliation with that organization.  We spoke with 
Sattar twice in the aftermath of that event.  His comments 
are interspersed below, but he dismisses Ali Hatem as an 
erratic young sheikh who seeks to use his family name to 
build a popular following.  Sattar grinned in recounting Ali 
Hatem,s charges in the press:  it was not disaffected 
Awakening Council sheikhs who split with Sattar, it was the 
sheikhs who expelled Ali Hatem. 
 
5.  (C) Although Sattar moved quickly, Ali Hatem is expected 
to continue his bid to re-enter post-war Anbar politics.  His 
ad hominem attack is pitched to many Anbaris who have doubts 
about Sattar.  The source of his personal wealth )- the 
illicit fuel trade -- is widely known.  Moreover, Sattar is 
from the relatively minor Abu Risha tribe, which lives 
chiefly in the Ramadi area.  His many detractors typically 
describe him as a second-tier sheikh, an upstart, and a 
sheikh of money and not of social position. 
 
Tribal Awakening 
---------------- 
 
6.  (C) Nonetheless, Sattar believes he has won the right to 
have a voice in Anbar affairs because of his personal bravery 
and leadership in battling Al-Qaeda.  He rose to prominence 
last September when he formed the SAA, a grassroots reaction 
to Al-Qaeda,s murder and intimidation campaign.  In 
Sattar,s words, the meaning of the Awakening movement is 
that &America is not the enemy,8 a message, he insists, 
that resonates widely in the Sunni community (see more 
below).  The SAA,s establishment was the turning point in 
the battle for Anbar province.  Sattar supported the 
Coalition Force,s (CF) police-recruitment drives and quickly 
got the GOI,s blessing to raise three &emergency response 
units,8 (ERUs, and now called PSFs ) Provincial Security 
Forces) drawn from tribal youth.  These auxiliary forces are 
approved and paid for by the Ministry of Interior. 
 
 
BAGHDAD 00002229  002 OF 005 
 
 
7. (C) After his success in Ramadi, tribal leaders in other 
Anbari cities, and even in other provinces, have set up their 
own ERUs.  When we spoke to him in Ramadi on June 25, Sattar 
claimed that two sheikhs from Salah Ad-Din province were 
staying at his compound, reportedly seeking his advice on 
anti-insurgent activities.  He claims that other sheikhs from 
Diyala are also seeking to meet with him. 
 
8. (C) Nonetheless, the key point is that Sattar,s ERUs were 
formed without the provincial government.  Last year Sattar 
did an end-run around provincial officials and appealed 
directly to the GOI for assistance in setting up the ERUs. 
The GOI responded favorably and even appointed Sattar as a 
semi-official provincial security advisor.  What followed was 
a steady decline in violence.  According to MNF-West records, 
Ramadi has recently experienced fewer than 20 security 
incidents a week, down from the 160-plus incidents weekly 
last September.  Today Ramadi is no longer under insurgent 
control. 
 
Political Tensions 
------------------ 
 
9. (C) Even as the SAA was succeeding against Al-Qaeda, it 
took aim at two other targets:  Anbar,s Provincial Council 
and Tariq Al-Hashmi,s Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP).  Shortly 
after its founding, the SAA openly denounced the Provincial 
Council as illegitimate, absent, and ineffective in the 
battle against the enemy.  There is much truth to these 
charges.  Anbar,s Provincial Council was installed in the 
January 2005 national election, a poll that widely boycotted 
by Anbaris, who at time felt estranged from the national 
political process.  Only 3,775 ballots were cast 
province-wide, in population of 1.2 million residents.  The 
IIP won some 2,700 votes and the right to form the Council. 
It is on the shaky foundation of this boycotted poll that 
Anbar,s Provincial Council rests today. 
 
10. (SBU) The Provincial Council has been absent from the 
local scene for much of the past 15 months.  It fled to the 
relative safety of Baghdad in March 2006 amid continuing 
insurgent violence.  In the following months, it conducted 
business in Baghdad, but for all practical purposes the 
provincial government had effectively ceased to function. 
Only Governor Ma,amoun Sami Rasheed, himself the target of 
assassination attempts, maintained office hours at the 
war-damaged Government Center in Ramadi, protected by a 
company of US Marines.  Meanwhile, the SAA charged that the 
Council abandoned its post, while the tribes stayed to fight 
the enemy.  Privately, IIP figures in the provincial 
government counter-charged that the SAA,s real objective was 
to take over the Provincial Council. 
 
11. (U) Relations between the two sides deteriorated, and in 
early November PM Maliki appointed Minister of State of 
Foreign Affairs Dr. Rafe Al-Essawi, a Fallujah native and an 
IIP member, to mediate.   In doing so, the PM bypassed IIP 
leader and Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who is 
widely distrusted by Anbar,s tribal leaders.  Indeed, 
several weeks earlier Hashmi had chaired an Anbar 
reconciliation meeting at Baghdad,s Rasheed Hotel, which was 
snubbed by many Anbari sheikhs.  By November 4, Dr. Rafe 
brokered a compromise in which Provincial Council agreed to 
expand its membership to create additional seats for SAA 
representatives, thus giving Sattar at least eight SAA 
members on the council. 
 
12. (U) The developments last fall set a pattern that is 
still evident today:  the reflexive tribal hostility to the 
IIP; the widely-held perception that the Provincial Council 
lacks public consent and has an undistinguished record; and 
the persistent badgering by the Sattar camp to get a bigger 
voice in provincial affairs, especially on security matters. 
This spring, Sattar renewed his push for greater 
representation on the Provincial Council.  The IIP, under 
pressure, opened a dialogue with him, purportedly with a 
power-sharing agreement as an aim.  The talks were 
inconclusive.  No such agreement has been reached, and today 
relations between the provincial government and the Sattar 
group are publicly polite, but two sides still harbor 
suspicions of each other. 
 
13. (SBU) Provincial Council Chairman Abdulsalam Abdullah, 
the senior IIP official in the province and a close associate 
of Hashemi, repeatedly warns us about Coalition support for 
Sattar, and also about tribal mobilization more generally. 
His view is that tribal awakenings diminish the legitimacy of 
public authority, and that, despite the imperatives of a 
counter-insurgency strategy, the US should lend its support 
to local government, as imperfect as it is. 
 
14. (SBU) Abdulsalam makes a point on the limited utility of 
 
BAGHDAD 00002229  003 OF 005 
 
 
tribal engagement, but in a wider sense, his suspicion of 
tribal influence reflects a deeper social divide.  IIP 
members in Anbar tend to be educated professionals and urban 
dwellers.  Abdulsalam, a physician by training, and Governor 
Ma,amoun, a civil engineer, are examples.  Although such 
individuals have tribal roots, they are not necessarily 
 tribal, in outlook, and tend to regard tribal authority as 
feudal relic.  The tribes, on the other hand, regard the IIP 
as alien and disruptive to their traditional way of life. 
Their unhappy experience with the Ba,ath shapes their views 
on all parties.  &Tribes are easier to control than 
politicians,8 Sattar half-jokingly told us recently. 
 
The Iraqi Islamic Party 
----------------------- 
 
15. (C) Sattar makes little effort to conceal his contempt of 
the IIP and Sunni fundamentalist groups.  In several recent 
discussions with him, he said that his opposition to the IIP 
is based on the principle that politics and religion ought 
not to be mixed, and that any such mixture will refine 
neither and pollute both.  He bluntly describes 
cleric-politicians as &frauds.8  Last November, he traded 
insults in the Iraqi press with president of the Muslim 
Scholars Organization Sheikh Harith Al-Dhari after the latter 
appeared to give support to Al-Qaeda by referring to its 
actions as &resistance.8  Sattar is quick to trace the 
IIP,s origins to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, an 
association that, in his view, &brought the insurgents into 
Anbar.8  Sattar says that he has good relations with 
individual IIP members, but the party as an organization is a 
menace to public order. 
 
16. (SBU) One point of contention is the use of the term 
&friendly forces.8  In press conferences and public 
statements, Sattar regularly refers to the US Marines and 
soldiers in Anbar Province as &friendly forces8 and 
addresses his written correspondence to them in that fashion. 
 He dares his detractors to do the same.  On two occasions 
this year, he co-sponsored Ramadi city reconstruction 
conferences with the MNF-West brigade in Ramadi.  At those 
events, he insisted on displaying the American flag alongside 
the Iraqi flag.  Sattar,s example led to a change of tone by 
Gov. Ma,amoun.  The governor, who has IIP roots but claims 
to be non-partisan after assuming office in 2005, had long 
avoided the use of &friendly forces,8 but has recently used 
the expression on radio and television.  In general, Sattar 
favors the continuation of US military bases in Anbar for the 
foreseeable future.  He sees the CF as a sword against 
Al-Qaeda and a shield against Shia overreaching. 
 
"The Honorable Resistance8 
-------------------------- 
 
17. (SBU) Sattar denounces the concept of the &honorable 
resistance,8 the moral double-standard that forbids a 
&resistance group8 to undertake violence against Iraqi 
citizens, but countenances attacks against the CF.  In 
Sattar,s words, the honorable resistance is &terrorism with 
a different face.8  This position has long put him at odds 
with the IIP, whose program calls for the &liberation8 of 
Iraq from &occupation forces,8 and which seeks also a 
&fair and objective8 view of the Iraq insurgency, an 
ambiguous loophole that holds open the moral acceptability of 
the &honorable resistance.8  Sattar puts much of the blame 
for the insurgency on Sunni clerics who accommodated radical 
calls to arms. 
 
18. (SBU) By contrast, Ali Hatem finds the &honorable 
resistance8 to be a valid moral distinction.  On June 13, he 
chaired a meeting of several dozen Anbari sheikhs in the 
Euphrates River town of Hit.  That meeting produced a set of 
resolutions, among which was a distinction between 
&terrorists,8 who ought to be fought, and the &honorable 
Iraqi resistance,8 which ought to be supported.  What was 
not clear, however, was whether the attendees at that 
conference, several of whom reportedly were Sattar 
supporters, approved that language or whether the document 
was drafted chiefly by Ali Hatem without their explicit 
concurrence. 
 
19. (SBU) Two days later, Ali Hatem got into hot water on 
&Al-Arabiyah8 when he expanded his attack on Sattar to 
include the Coalition.  &I am against the Americans,8 he 
said, adding later &as far as we are concerned, we are not 
agents and have nothing to do with the Americans.  Our war 
will continue against AQI, the militias, and the American 
Forces until the last man.8  Such inflammatory words were 
apparently too much for Ali Hatem,s own people in Ramadi. 
His uncle, Sheikh Amer, the titular head of the Dulaimi 
federation, reined him in.  Ali Hatem recanted in an undated 
weekly Anbar newspaper, &The Voice of Anbar,8 which appears 
 
BAGHDAD 00002229  004 OF 005 
 
 
to have been issued after the &al-Arabiyah8 interview. 
&Our principle enemy is Al-Qaeda and not the Americans,8 he 
said.  But the damage was done.  Ali Hatem delivered his 
message on a widely viewed TV broadcast and later modified 
his views in an obscure local publication.  Sattar points to 
the flip-flop as evidence of Ali Hatem,s untrustworthiness. 
 
The &Iraq Awakening Movement8 
---------------------------- 
 
20. (SBU) In April, Sattar sought to transform the SAA into a 
political party, the &Iraq Awakening Movement8 (SAI).  The 
move was widely seen as a bid to compete with the IIP in 
future Provincial Council elections.  Sattar maintains that 
the SAI secular and seeks to advance national unity and 
reconciliation.  He disavows any political ambitions for 
himself, but sees the party as the home for Sunni 
aspirations.  However, two months after the party,s founding 
it does not seem to have gotten much traction.  Sattar told 
us in late June that the party,s current work is a continual 
round of meetings with Anbari sheikhs, to explain to them the 
need for a party.  Apart from its base in Ramadi, the SAI has 
reportedly sought to open offices in at least two other 
cities.  Sattar alleges the premises have been vandalized by 
his opponents. 
 
21. (C) On 22 May, in a move to break onto the national 
political scene, senior SAI representatives met with three 
Shia national parliamentarians associated with Muqtada 
al-Sadr in Sadr City.   It was the first public contact 
between the two seemingly disparate groups.  Sattar says that 
the meeting was arranged because Iraq,s Shia and Sunni 
communities face a common enemy in Al-Qaeda.  The two sides 
issued a joint statement calling for fighting terrorism, 
reconciliation, and an early date for provincial council 
elections.  The SAI,s Shia interlocutors wanted to include a 
timetable for the Coalition,s withdrawal, but the Sattarists 
declined. 
 
22. (C) Sattar is open to the idea of a meeting between 
himself and Muqtada, but maintains the timing is not right. 
He believes that such an encounter would attract lightening 
from both the GOI and the camp of Shia political leader Abdul 
Aziz Al-Hakim, who might regard a Sattar-Muqtada combination 
as a threat.  Though he harbors predictable Sunni suspicions 
about Shia intentions ) both Sattar and Gov. Ma,amoun 
regularly warn us frequently about encroachments onto 
Anbar,s jurisdiction by Karbali and Najafi police ) he and 
his aides insist that the SAI is not a sectarian movement. 
Indeed, Sattar says that the SAI delegation was 
enthusiastically greeted on Sadr City streets. 
 
Elections 
--------- 
 
23. (SBU) Sattar maintains the IIP has little public support 
in Anbar and would not fare well at the polls.  This view is 
commonly held among many of our contacts, and even some IIP 
members privately acknowledge that their party has dim 
prospects in Anbar.  One sheikh, who is no Sattar admirer, 
maintains that the IIP is strong only in Fallujah, which is 
close to Baghdad and less tribal than other parts of Anbar. 
However, when uttered by tribal leaders such views may be 
self-serving.  Until there is a free election, most 
statements about the relative strength of the IIP and rival 
movements tend to be speculative. 
 
24. (SBU) Still, it would be wrong to sell the IIP short. 
There are already indications that the party is ready to 
breathe new life into its presence in Anbar.  The ulema is a 
key.  Their inclinations bear watching.  In recent Anbar 
history, the ulema have shaped and reflected public 
sentiment.  Mosque preachers here did much to foment the 
insurgency in 2003-04.  They have done much recently to calm 
the situation.  They could do much to aid the IIP in the 
future.  Even though the AIM engages clerics, Sattar is wary 
of them.  In his view, Iraqi society is most easily 
penetrated through the ulema. 
 
Comment: The Post-War Period 
---------------------------- 
 
25. (C) Anbar Province is emerging from the battle against 
the insurgency into the post-war period.  Western Iraq is in 
a messy and still-dangerous transition, but the key political 
actors are jockeying for position.  Al-Qaeda is on the 
defensive.  Public opinion has turned against al-Qaeda, and 
the tribes are mobilized against it.  To be sure, the public 
wants the CF out of its cities, but virtually all our 
contacts recognize that the province is not yet ready to 
provide for security without CF help.  Still there is a mood 
of rising expectations for accountable and responsive local 
 
BAGHDAD 00002229  005 OF 005 
 
 
government.  Those expectations themselves are evidence that 
public opinion has shifted from estrangement from the 
national political scene to getting on with the business of 
reconstruction. 
 
26.  (C) Today the political landscape in Anbar has the 
following features:  The Provincial Council is widely seen as 
illegitimate.  An uneasy truce exists between the IIP and the 
Sattar,s SAI over the control of provincial government. 
Municipal councils are self-selected and self-perpetuating. 
Tribal factions are squabbling over leadership.  The IIP is 
down but not out.  The SAI has long agitated for an early 
provincial ballot, while the IIP has not yet revealed its 
hand. 
 
27.  (C) In our view, provincial council elections would 
further Coalition war aims.  An election would help 
consolidate the security gains that have been made in the 
past nine months and would not be destabilizing.  Indeed, a 
provincial election would likely result in the continuation 
of pragmatists in public office, personalities much in the 
mold of the current provincial leadership, who would 
cooperate with the Coalition while groping for an 
accommodation with Baghdad.  In some respects, Anbar 
Province, a contested battleground last fall, is today 
perhaps a step or two ahead of other parts of Iraq. 
CROCKER 

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