Support For Iraq’s Top Sunni Politician Appears Unified – Or is It?
As Iraqi political parties negotiate to form a new government, a front runner has emerged for top Sunni Muslim representative. Yet somehow Mohammed al-Halbusi’s popularity is causing jealousy and suspicion.
After the results of Iraq’s elections were recounted and then ratified, political parties lost no time in coming together to try and form the largest bloc in parliament, so that they could be the group that gets to decide upon the next government.
In Anbar, the most popular Sunni Muslim candidate is Mohammed al-Halbusi, also the current governor of the state. He won the most votes as part of the Anbar Is Our Identity alliance and, perhaps unsurprisingly, his supporters think he would make a great Speaker of the House, this being the most senior position in the Iraqi government usually reserved for a Sunni Muslim politician. This is according to the unofficial quota system that Iraqi politics still uses.
It seems the success he has had in a very short time, while he has been in charge in Anbar, has scared many other politicians and made them jealous.
A number of rallies and conferences have been held in support of al-Halbusi’s nomination to the job.
Strangely enough there were a local community leaders present there who had previously opposed al-Halbusi. For example, Hamid al-Hayes, the head of the Anbar Salvation Council, was invited to one of them. “I didn’t realise that this was going to be a tribal council meeting where the nomination of Mohammed al-Halbusi was to be announced,” says a less-than-pleased al-Hayes. “I found myself in a trap. Everyone in Anbar knows how I feel about the local politicians,” he continues. “I was not there as anything but a courtesy. Additionally there were not many senior people there. And the conference didn’t represent all the tribes of Anbar – and it was held in Baghdad, not in Anbar,” he complained.
The head of Fallujah’s tribal council, Abdulrahman al-Zubaie, was similarly surprised. He thinks al-Halbusi has done a good job in Anbar but he’s not sure if he is the right man for the job and he doesn’t think seminars such as the one he attended will make a big difference to that.
“Al-Halbusi’s success in Anbar makes him a good candidate for the job of Speaker,” al-Zubaie says. “He has good leadership and good administrative skills. But the Speaker’s job requires more than that. Anyway the person who gets that job must get approval from every party,” al-Zubaie points out.
Halbusi was born in Anbar's Karmah district and graduated with a degree in engineering. He worked with his father, who owned a construction firm, on a number of projects around Anbar before he was first nominated as an MP for the state in 2014. He was elected as governor of Anbar in 2017 and he generally has a good reputation with locals.
But there are also international influencers to consider, al-Zubaie points out, particularly from the Sunni-Muslim-majority Gulf states
“The conflict between Saudi Arabia and Qatar has prompted Saudi Arabia to give the green light to the recently formed Sunni alliance and also to al-Halbusi’s candidacy for Speaker,” says Iraqi MP Abdul Rahman al-Luwaizi, who is from the Sunni Muslim-majority city of Mosul.
This is making some other observers suspicious. Another community leader from Fallujah, Ibrahim al-Musleh, believes that the support for al-Halbusi is a trick.
“It seems the success he has had in a very short time, while he has been in charge in Anbar, has scared many other politicians and made them jealous,” al-Musleh suggests. “Nobody who has ever been made Speaker of Parliament has been able to do the job properly for his own supporters, because the job is supposed to have the politician in question working for all Iraqis. So this is a way that al-Halbusi will be separated from his supporters. The same thing has happened before.”
Mohammed al-Halbusi, the governor of Anbar, in the center.