It is almost two years since tribal forces rose up in Anbar province against al-Qaeda, wrestling back control of their province and dealing al-Qaeda a severe blow. The “Al-Anbar Salvation Council” was financially
Niqash: A few days ago Fallujah witnessed a new explosion claiming the lives of dozens. Does this signal the return of al-Qaeda to the city?
Al-Hatem: Al-Qaeda does not exist anymore in Anbar province, but there are some people who are trying to wreak havoc in the province, especially after stable security conditions were witnessed across the province. Let us not accuse al-Qaeda of every bombing. I am not defending al-Qaeda, but only pointing to other causes related to tribal conflicts and also to conflicts between tribes and the Islamic Party.
Niqash: What is your security role, and are security apparatuses infiltrated as rumors suggest?
Al-Hatem: We did our part; we fought al-Qaeda, cleaned the city and handed responsibility over to the security forces – the army and the police – to chase al-Qaeda remnants or infiltrators who still try to threaten the security of the city. As for infiltration, yes, there are many infiltrations in the police apparatus, especially those associated with the Islamic Party in Fallujah. One cannot know whether it is protecting the city or not. There are police members who are also members of organizations affiliated with al-Qaeda such as “Hamas Western Iraq”, led by a police colonel in Fallujah. But, despite the attempt of these corrupt elements, al-Qaeda’s presence has virtually ceased to exist.
Niqash: What is the current number of your fighters? Have some of them been integrated into the security services?
Al-Hatem: Firstly, I would like to clarify that we do not have fighters; we have awakening members. The sons of the tribes volunteered to become awakening members and their number reached 180,000. According to the government’s decision to integrate 20% of them into its security forces, 30,000 members were integrated and they take their orders from the government and not from sheikhs because we want to implement the law and to establish security in Anbar.
Niqash: Are you supported by the U.S?
Al-Hatem: In the beginning nobody provided us with any support. It was only Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who personally supported us by supplying arms and by issuing administrative orders to facilitate our mobility. He gave orders for the creation of brigades and battalions considering us a “force in support of the law”. As for the U.S, it supported projects in the city because the role of the local government is almost absent.
Niqash: What about rumors that there are also infiltrations in the awakening councils?
Al-Hatem: There aren’t any. There are attempts by some politicians to tarnish our reputation after the successes we achieved in expelling al-Qaeda from Anbar and a number of Iraqi cities. If things continue the way they are now, we will, as tribes, ultimately withdraw and let them manage alone. There are many accusations against us. Sometimes we are accused of being a militia and sometimes we are accused of infiltrations. The dangerous statements made by politicians are behind these rumors and they will return the country to its previous conditions. Politicians make these statements because they are afraid of losing their seats in the up-coming provincial elections.
Niqash: Why is there no awakening council similar to yours in Mosul despite the existence of Arab tribes and al-Qaeda?
Al-Hatem: Peshmerga forces in Mosul city are stronger than the Iraqi army itself. They control the city and they have their own agenda. But, if the people of Mosul seriously consider creating awakening councils, nobody can stop them.
Niqash: What are the reasons behind the conflict between you and the Islamic Party?
Al-Hatem: We consider the province council, dominated by the Islamic Party, illegitimate in Anbar because there were many areas under al-Qaeda control during the last elections so no elections were held there. Members of the provincial council handed over the city’s department to al-Qaeda members and Anbar remained detached from the outside world until the group’s expulsion. There are other problems which the current provincial council is responsible for, especially the deterioration of services in the city which have not witnessed any improvement during the past years.
Niqash: What are your preparations for the elections? Is it true that you are going to participate in the elections in one list together with other tribes?
Al-Hatem: We will participate in the elections in one list, the “Iraq awakening and salvation front”, formed of the Anbar Salvation Council, Iraq Awakening Conference, al-Tomouh Party and al-Anbar Sheikhs Bloc, all of which are dominated by tribes. We believe that the results will be in our favor. In the past, tribes did not participate in the elections because participation was considered as collaboration with occupation. This way we lost our right to participate in the decision-making process, but circumstances are different today. I would like to point out here that there are attempts by the office of the High Commission in the city to obstruct and postpone the elections in the province because the commission’s office and all electoral observers are members of the Islamic Party. This raises doubt on the integrity of the coming elections.
Niqash: How would you respond if the government asks you to disarm, as it has asked the Mahdi army, as a condition for participating in the elections?
Al-Hatem: We cannot be classified as a militia similar to the Mahdi Army which used its weapons in a way known to everyone. The weapons we carry are personal weapons and this is an Iraqi tribal tradition. We did not carry arms against any political party despite all the problems we have continuously faced inside and outside the city. Our weapons are legitimate and they have only been used against al-Qaeda.