The Sunni of Anbar
The grim strategic situation facing Iraqi Sunnis today parallels that of ten years ago when they were beset by powerful enemies in al Qaeda but also US troops and Shia militias. The solution, albeit a short-lived one, came by allying with US troops in the Anbar Awakening. Of course, this option is no longer available as the US will never send ground troops back into Iraq. Three options remain.
First, the Sunnis can ally, if only briefly, with al Qaeda. Several reasons make this at least plausible. The two forces once jointly fought the US, and both oppose the Shia government in Baghdad. Al Qaeda franchises in Mali, Sinai, Yemen, and Pakistan have won measures of support from tribes disaffected by their central governments. Anbar is home to many Salafi networks whose austere interpretation of Islam resonates with al Qaeda beliefs, and many inhabitants of Fallujah today express at least grudging respect for al Qaeda fighters for opposing Shia rule. However, al Qaeda over the years has greatly angered Anbar tribes, especially the vast and militarily powerful Dulayim confederation. Following the 2003 US invasion, al Qaeda pushed aside Dulayim leaders and imposed their own rough administration, driving the tribes over to the American side in the Anbar Awakening. For their collaboration the leaders suffered immensely from al Qaeda reprisals, especially when the Americans withdrew from the province.
Second, Anbar Sunnis can request financial and military assistance from the Shia government. Baghdad will be wary of such support as it could strengthen Sunni tribes and militias, not only against al Qaeda but also against Baghdad, setting the stage for a war of independence. This, however, may be judged inevitable and even preferable to the deadly bombing campaign al Qaeda is waging against the Shia. This option would pit al Qaeda against the Sunni tribes in western Iraq, perhaps leaving the rest of the country more secure.
Third, a longer-term option may emerge as Anbar Sunnis ally with Syrian counterparts in anti-Assad rebel movements who can no longer hold the cities along the Mediterranean coast and must retreat to the border with Anbar. Such an alliance could develop into an autonomous region straddling the Syria-Iraq border, independent of both Damascus and Baghdad. It will enjoy considerable support from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf principalities who dearly wish to break Iranian-Shia power now stretching from Iran through Iraq and Syria into Lebanon.
© 2014 Brian M Downing
Brian M Downing is a political/military analyst, author of The Paths of Glory: Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam, and co-author with Danny Rittman of The Samson Heuristic.