ROVING EYE Behind the Anbar myth
By Pepe Escobar
the elaborate theatrics just performed in the
house of mirrors of Washington, US President
George W Bush is now recommending to the nation
what he told top Iraq commander General David
Petraeus to recommend to him. Only those paying
more attention to the botched comeback of the
"fat" lip-synching Britney Spears will be fooled
by Petraeus, the iPod general - a player of what
is fed by his master's voice, the White House.
The facts are stark: by next summer, and
even next September
months before the presidential election),
Washington will have the same number of boots on
the ground (130,000) in Iraq's US$3-billion-a-week
war that it had before the "surge", compounding -
indeed amplifying - the existing ethical,
political and strategic disaster.
Petraeus' key argument this week to prove
his steering of the Bush-devised "surge" was a
"success" was to spin the close collaboration
between the occupation and the Shi'ite-dominated
Iraqi government in Baghdad on the one side with
Sunni tribal leaders in al-Anbar province on the
other. Petraeus framed it as if this "sustainable"
solution was a huge counterinsurgency success of
his own making. Nothing could be further from the
The success story in Anbar is not
due to the general's wily ways, but to an Iraqi
sheikh: Abdul Satter Abu Risha, the leader of a
coalition of tribes, including 200 sheikhs, formed
in the autumn of 2006 under the name Anbar
Sovereignty Council (now it's called Iraq
Asia Times Online talked to
Abu Risha this past spring in Iraq. He explained,
crucially, that he had set up the council after
his father and two brothers were killed by
al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers. Yes, it
was personal. Petraeus then joined the bandwagon.
Abu Risha is not, and never was, a Salafi-jihadi.
He considers himself an Iraqi nationalist. He's
not in favor of a caliphate. But he's definitely
in favor of restored power to Sunni Iraqis.
Petraeus was indeed smart enough to marvel
at the possibilities of a marriage of convenience
between the occupation and Sunni tribes. Al-Qaeda
for its part was clumsy enough to force
"Talibanization" down Anbar people's throats. But
this does not mean that Abu Risha and his 200
tribal leaders are pro-occupation, or even
pro-Iraqi government. Eighty percent of these
tribes are sub-clans of the very powerful Dulaimi
tribe. Al-Qaeda's close relationship is with the
Mashadani tribe, which used to be very close to
Saddam Hussein. What matters is that with varying
degrees of disgust, both big tribes detest the
government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in
Way beyond any "success" claimed
by Petraeus, what's happening in Anbar is once
again a replay of what happened in eastern
Afghanistan in 2001. Local tribes profit from US
largesse - and weapons - and then proceed with
their own tribal and/or nationalist agenda. What
matters for all these players, most of all, is
restoration of Sunni power. The Dulaimi tribe and
sub-clans, armed by the Americans, as soon as they
have a chance, will try to topple the US-sponsored
puppet government in Baghdad.
not been able to seduce or bribe Sunni guerrillas.
Far from it: leading groups such as the Jaysh
Ansar al-Sunna, the 1920 Revolution Brigades and
the Islamic Front for the Iraqi Resistance make it
very clear their enemies remain the US occupation,
the Maliki government and al-Qaeda in the Land of
the Two Rivers.
This summer, three of
these groups - the 1920 Revolution Brigades, Ansar
al-Sunna and Iraqi Hamas - formed the Political
Office for the Iraqi Resistance, a public
political alliance basically to throw out all of
Petraeus's troops, block any collaboration with
occupation-endorsed political institutions, and
declare null and void any agreement between the US
and the Iraqi government.
By this time,
way into the "surge", Petraeus had certainly
figured out that Anbar was not a relevant war
theater anymore. He can use it to spin the
"success" of his counterinsurgency methods, but he
knows the three really relevant, internal wars in
Iraq, for the near future, will be in Baghdad
(between Sunnis and Shi'ites), in Basra (between
Shi'ite militias, to see who gets to control the
oil) and in Kirkuk (between Kurds and
Arabs/Turkomans, for the same reason).
why not spice it all up with some extra divide and
rule - to justify an eternal US presence? Arming
Sunni tribals in Anbar, under these circumstances,
makes sense. The occupation does not need to fight
Sunnis in oil-deprived Anbar. The Bush
administration is now full steam ahead on fighting
Shi'ites - both in Iran (the Iranian Revolutionary
Guards Corps) and in Iraq (from the Maliki
government to Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army).
Shi'ites in both Iran and southern Iraq are
sitting over a wealth of oil. The Sunnis are
needed to advance this agenda.
problem is what Iraqi Sunnis think of all this.
According to the latest BBC/ABC News poll, no less
than 97% of Iraqi Sunnis want a unified,
centralized Iraq with Baghdad as capital. Only 56%
of Shi'ites want it, not to mention only 9% of
Kurds. No less than 98% of Sunnis are against the
Maliki government. And no less than 92% of Sunnis
are in favor of attacks against occupation troops,
including, of course, all those Dulaimis now
supported by the Americans.
this: virtually no Iraqi Sunni wants to hug him
and kiss him. They want the US out. But he also
knows the US simply cannot go - what with the new
mega-embassy, the secluded military bases, and all
The magic word "oil"
mysteriously vanished from the whole drama
performed this week in front of Congress. To get
it, the answer is once again divide and rule -
let's have those Sunnis and Shi'ites tear each
other to bits while we "stay the course"
pretending to protect them from themselves while
trying to protect "our" oil. Bush's "surge" may
indeed be a success - but for all the reasons the
general would not dare tell the world.