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Extremists At The Intersections
As Security Forces Multiply In Anbar, So Does Danger

Kamal al-Ayash
There are more than five different security forces protecting Anbar from extremist attacks. But in this case, too much security is starting to equal too little, with no central command or overarching plan.
21.12.2018  |  Anbar
Iraqi army forces in Anbar. Source: Iraqi army.
Iraqi army forces in Anbar. Source: Iraqi army.

Not that long ago, the central Iraqi province of Anbar was known as one of the most dangerous parts of the country, mostly because of the presence of Sunni Muslim extremist groups like Al Qaeda in Iraq, and then later the Islamic State group. Bombings and assassinations were an almost daily occurrence.

After the extremist group known as the Islamic State, or IS, was finally pushed out of the province in late 2017, things have been far more stable and secure.

The situation may suggest stability but in fact Anbar’s security is teetering on the edge of the abyss.

“Anbar has been transformed into a military barracks, as a result of the complex security measures,” Tariq Yusef al-Asal, one of the leaders of Anbar’s tribal militias that had been fighting the Islamic State, told NIQASH. “This has confiscated citizens’ freedoms and restricted movement, in return for a secure life in a giant prison.”

Al-Asal believes there are an excessive amount of security forces in the province now, with peace imposed by force. “But it’s a false sort of security,” he adds. “We only have power inside the cities, The desert is still a safe haven for armed groups.”

The militia commander believes that part of the problem has to do with the many different kinds of security forces operating in the province. There are five and there is no central command, he explains. “Each of the groups thinks that it is the strongest and it is the one that should make all the decisions in the areas it controls.”

The five main forces include several Iraqi army-associated command groups – the Anbar, Jazeera, Badiya and East Anbar Commands. Then there’s the police and the border forces as well as various intelligence departments. There are also the various militias, which include the tribal groups, all formed more recently to fight the IS group here.

 

Iraqi army troops in Anbar.

 

The different groups have different roles – for example, the border patrol is supposed to ensure that extremists don’t get back into the country, via Anbar’s vast deserts, while most of the other forces are stationed in Anbar’s cities.

There are also US troops stationed in Anbar, an estimated 9,000 of them in four different bases. They play an important role here but it’s not often made very public due to antipathy towards the US that lingers in Anbar. For example, when the US announce their intentions to set up a new base near the Iraqi-Syrian border and the city of Qaim, local security leaders complained loudly.

Anbar politicians don’t have the authority to prevent US-led forces from setting up bases here as this is a federal matter. The provincial council has also complained about the establishment of such bases in the province without their approval.

As a result of all of the above though, there is no single military commander that has oversight. Even the local government has to work out who to speak to.

“Anbar provincial authorities don’t have the authority to make any security decisions, until after we have put it in writing to the general command of the Iraqi armed forces,” Ali Farhan, Anbar’s governor, told NIQASH. “When that’s been done, measures are implemented - but only according to those prior approvals.”

“All this security chaos has the potential for disaster, one that could take us backwards,” warns Amjad Hamid, an officer who works in the Anbar Operations Command – he used a false name because he was not allowed to speak on the record. “Especially if the different commands don’t somehow unite and share their plans, with one command taking the ultimate responsibility.”

“The situation may suggest stability but in fact Anbar’s security is teetering on the edge of the abyss,” argues Abdul Karim Khudair, a retired army officer who lives in Fallujah. “Lack of coordination and a central leadership have created a number of loopholes that could be used by armed groups to redeploy, particularly in areas where different  responsibilities intersect.”

Those holes at the intersections need to be filled, Khudair suggests, especially in the Jazeera and Badiya Commands’ territory, because those forces control an important and vital part of the province.

 

Members of Shiite Muslim militias in Anbar.