Anbar and its predominantly Sunni Arab inhabitants need to be reinvigorated from the bottom-up, not “awoken”.
We should remember at least that much when talking about a new Sunni “awakening” when talking about how Iraq can effectively and thoroughly root out Daesh from that vast western Iraqi province.
Of course the real reason there is talk about another Sunni Awakening is in reference to the last one which successfully instilled within the Sunni tribesmen of Anbar the confidence and support they needed to do away with the al-Qaeda terrorists trying to seize their territory in order to establish a self-styled “caliphate”. During the pre-surge Iraq War-era sectarian violence which pervaded throughout many parts of the country some Sunnis had very naively believed that Sunni Islamist groups like al-Qaeda could prove to be the lesser evil and protect them against the more violent of the sectarian Shia militias. However once those Islamists rolled into their neighbourhoods most Sunnis saw just how dangerous and vile they really are. Accounts from that period recollected by some of those Sunni Iraqis reveal that just like Daesh (a.k.a. ISIS) today they were gruesome sadists who had no reservations about murdering children to show anyone who dared even think about resisting them how far they were readily willing to go in order to subjugate the populations over which they tried to impose their rule.
Today Daesh still retains its hold over large swaths of predominantly Sunni Arab inhabited Iraqi territory. The Kurds and the Iraqi government, among others, are working to reverse that groups gains and drive them out of Iraq’s Nineveh and Anbar provinces. The latter of which saw Awakening Councils consisting of indigenous Sunni tribesmen drive out al-Qaeda in Iraq Islamists about eight years ago. Those Sunni tribesmen however were never widely integrated into the broader state security forces after the surge and throughout the tenure of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Consequently they were left quite lightly armed when Daesh began terrorizing the population there into submission. Sunni tribesmen have been massacred by Daesh forces who are working to consolidate their control there. Many Sunnis feel betrayed by Baghdad and some see it as a merely a sectarian government which does not represent their interests and actively conspires against them.
This is one of the reasons I was happy to see that the present Prime Minister of Iraq Haider al-Abadi has stressed the importance of reaching out to the Sunnis and helping them rise up and shake off the Daesh with support from their army when he called for a “tribal revolution”. It’s great to see the emphasis he puts on the importance of cross-denominational cohesion in Iraq in wake of the worst sectarians we have seen in some time trying to sow discord in that war weary state and society.
While the largest community in Iraq is clearly its Shiite Arab community one would be cautious about the state relying too heavily on Shia militias to help in the fight against Daesh. That’s not to say those militias do not have any use in this fight. One really cannot criticize any Shiite Muslim who wishes to take up a weapon in order to defend their places of worship or community from the likes of Daesh. After all how could they readily forget what salafi terrorists like these did to their revered Al-Askari Mosque back in 2006? And furthermore why should they run the risk of enduring another similar attack when they can be armed, prepared and ready to defend themselves?
This is not to say however that it’s a good idea for Shiites who wave the sectarian banners of their militias to go to places like Anbar to fight Daesh. That job should be reserved for the Iraqi Army which really needs to reaffirm its secular nature and make-up at this point in time. Just because its is an army with a majority of Shiites in it does not mean it constitutes a Shiite fighting force like, say, Muqtada al-Sadr’s so-called “Peace Brigades”.
Daesh has inadvertently given the Iraqi state a very important test, that being the re-instilling of badly shattered confidence in the Sunni Arabs and Kurds of Iraq of the state army and security forces as a force that represents them and is there to defend the interests of the state and all of its inhabitants as a whole and is not simply another armed force which furthers the interest of one community over, or at the expense of, another.
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