Anbar was where fighting first broke out in Iraq at the very end of December 2013. The conflict split many of the province’s tribes with some supporting the government, some revolting against the authorities but opposing the Islamic State (IS), and some throwing in their lot with the Islamists. Since then some of those tribes have re-aligned again as many had bad relations with IS previously, and when it became the main fighting force in Anbar they decided to fight them as well and went to Baghdad for support. New Prime Minister Haider Abadi has come out for recruiting and training tribes in the governorate and incorporating them into the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). The U.S. has been pushing this idea as well. Not all in Abadi’s coalition agree however, and the implementation of the strategy has gone anything but smoothly.
Premier Abadi and the Americans have both been pushing the formation of tribal fighting forces in Anbar. In the middle of October the Interior Ministry okayed the creation of a new 3,000 member Special Task Force Brigade for the province. It would consist of three brigades of 1,000 fighters each drawn from local tribes. The idea for the brigade came after meetings between representatives from Abadi’s office and sheikhs in Jordan. The Americans facilitated these talks as they have been pushing Baghdad to reach out to tribes and others to create Sunni allies to fight the insurgency. Both before and after this announcement, sheikhs in Anbar had complained that the central government was not supporting them, and were not giving them weapons despite their fighting the insurgents and the worsening security situation in the province. The problem is the Shiite parties are split over this idea. Some do not trust the tribes, some of which were once with the insurgents. They worry that if any weapons are given to them they could later be used against the government. There are also those that oppose decentralization of the security forces out to the provinces believing that it could lead to the break up of the country. These are long time concerns and existed under the former government of Nouri al-Maliki when the Awakening emerged in Anbar and later the Americans formed the Sahwa.
Despite these worries, Abadi and the Americans are pushing forward with this plan, but it is being criticized. First, the U.S. sent in advisers to the Habaniya and Al-Assad bases in central Anbar. The provincial council claimed this occurred in the middle of October, but the Americans didn’t officially announce this move until the start of November. At the same time, tribesmen from Ramadi, Haditha, Ana, Rawa, and Qaim began arriving at Al-Assad. 200 were to be trained every two weeks. When all 3,000 have completed this process they are supposed to assist with a major military push in Anbar. Sheikh Gaood from the Albu Nimr tribe, which has recently experienced mass executions by the IS complained on November 18 that this new brigade was not getting the support it was supposed to. He claimed that the unit received no ammunition and only 100 guns. A local official told Al Mada that the tribesmen had no weapons at all. If these charges are true they could have been the result of several factors. As already stated, some ruling parties are against the formation of this unit, and may be holding up its completion. The ISF’s logistics are horrendous and they may not have been able to come up with the equipment for the new unit in such as short amount of time. Whatever the case the lack of adequate supplies for the new brigade perpetuates the belief amongst many sheikhs that Baghdad is unwilling to stand behind them.
The creation of Sunni allies is a must if Baghdad hopes to turn around the security situation. Clearing out cities alone will not stop the insurgency or turn people away from supporting it. Only with local allies within the Sunni community can things be reversed. The creation of the Special Task Force Brigade in Anbar is a step in the right direction, but all the issues it is facing points to the problems in making this policy a reality. Members of Abadi’s ruling coalition do not trust the tribes’ loyalty. The institutional deficiencies within the ISF may delay the equipping of the unit. The fighters are also only scheduled for two weeks of training, which cannot provide them with much besides basic weapons training. That may mean the Brigade is just for show and will remain an auxiliary force like the current tribal forces are doing now in the province. Whatever the case, until there is full political and military backing for this plan there is little hope that it will be successful.
BBC, “Islamic state crisis; US troops sent into Iraq’s Anbar,” 11/11/14
Al Mada, “Abadi in dialogue with the elders of Anbar: competition between the two groups over recruiting 30 thousand fighters .. stuck on political demands,” 10/30/14
- “Americans are training “special missions” brigade in Anbar for the Liberation of cities,” 10/18/14
- “Americans are training volunteers from the clans but Baghdad only gave 200 guns,” 11/18/14
National Iraqi News Agency, “Anbar provincial council: /100/ American military personnel arrived to the province to train the security forces and the sons of the tribes,” 10/15/14
- “MoI approves forming a special force in Anbar under the supervision of US,” 10/17/14
Radio Free Iraq, “05 November 2014,” Daily Updates from Anbar, 11/5/14
- “16 November 2014,” Daily Updates from Anbar, 11/16/14
Rasheed, Ahmed, “Iraq’s Abadi struggles to gain Sunni tribal support,” Reuters, 10/29/14
Al Rayy, “Anbar declares that the first batch of the Brigade of Martyr Ahmed Dulaimi will complete its training this week,” 11/4/14
Shafaq News, “Abadi agrees to form a force of 30 thousand fighters from Anbar,” 10/28/14
- “A leader in Albu-Nimr tribe: the government did not arms only 100 of our men without ammunition,” 11/18/14