ISIS has been driven out of Ramadi, but does Iraq have a future?

Emma Sky talked to Jaber al-Jaberi, a former member of the Iraqi parliament for Anbar province, about how ISIS gained control of his native city, Ramadi. She writes: I peppered Jaber with questions: How had everything gone so badly wrong in Ramadi? How had Daesh been able to take over? Who were these people?

Looming large is the question of how to break the corrosive cycle of revenge and retribution.
Jaber described a subculture in Ramadi of uneducated men in their twenties and thirties. Some were thieves and petty criminals. Others had developed fundamentalist thinking. And when al-Qaeda in Iraq came into existence after the fall of the former regime, it was within that organization that they found a sense of power and identity.

However, when the Sahwa, the Anbar Awakening, turned against al-Qaeda, and aligned with US forces during the Surge in 2007, many of these same young men were drawn away from the insurgency and swapped sides, turning themselves into local police. And that was why the violence in Anbar had dramatically declined from 2007 onwards and stability had returned to the province.

The agreement that my former boss, Gen. Raymond Odierno, the then-commander of U.S. forces in Iraq had negotiated with former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was that 20 percent of the Sahwa would be integrated into the security forces and 80 percent into civilian jobs. But the deal was never implemented.

Rather, as U.S. forces withdrew, Maliki reneged on his promises to the Sahwa and arrested its leaders. He accused Sunni politicians of terrorism, driving them out of the political process. In response, Sunnis set up protest camps. But Maliki refused to meet their demands and sent in security forces to violently crush the demonstrations.

With the citizens of Ramadi so at odds with the central government once again, it had been easy for Daesh to rise up out of the ashes of al-Qaeda in Iraq and proclaim itself as the defender of the Sunnis. Daesh had taken over Anbar university and converted it into a prison.

Jaber explained that the tribes in Anbar had lost trust in the government and refused to fight Daesh. They remembered only too clearly how the Sahwa had been betrayed. “We could not convince them that the experience would be different from before.”

Finally, 9,000 tribesmen were persuaded to join the tribal al-Hashd, the popular mobilization force, and received training from U.S. troops in bases at Taqqadum and al-Asad. And it was these tribesman who had supported the counter-terrorism forces in their efforts to liberate Ramadi from Daesh at the end of 2015.

Governor al-Rawi has been nominated as the head of the Crisis Committee, which includes representatives of ministries, and is tasked with cleaning up the city, removing explosives, and restoring basic services to make Ramadi inhabitable once more so that its displaced citizens will return.

But difficult times remain ahead. There are huge challenges to rebuilding Ramadi, particularly with scarce resources available from the government due to the steep drop in oil prices to under $35 a barrel.

And looming large is the question of how to break the corrosive cycle of revenge and retribution that has led to so many deaths and displacement.

Jaber was recently appointed to the new Higher Committee for National Reconciliation established under the auspices of Iraq’s prime minister, the president, and the speaker of parliament, and with the mandate to promote “historic national reconciliation.”

Reconciliation has been talked about continually in Iraq over the last decade—but little has been done to address the structural challenges facing the country, to agree on a workable system of government and to reinvent an inclusive national identity to which Iraqi’s diverse peoples can relate.

Many observers believe that Iraq is finished: the Kurds are moving increasingly towards independence; Shia militias dominate the Iraqi government; Iranian influence is pervasive; and Sunni leadership is weak and fragmented. [Continue reading…]

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