Iraq’s Sunni Muslin political leadership remains in turmoil and nowhere so much as in Anbar. Since the extremist group known as the Islamic State were pushed out of the province in 2017, the political dynamic in the city has changed. The balance of power has shifted from well-known, establishment figures – many of whom have fallen out of favour with local voters because they failed to stop the extremists - to a new school of politicians, many of whom emerged after the security crisis.
Over the past few days, this change has been writ even more clearly on the province, as a number of officials have been dismissed and replaced by others closer to one of the leaders of this new school, politician Mohammed al-Halbusi – the latter is also the Speaker of the Iraqi parliament, which makes him the highest ranked Sunni Muslim politician in Iraq.
All the manoeuvring in Anbar is making locals nervous. They fear that security gains will be lost.
Any senior official who isn’t allied with al-Halbusi should watch their back : That’s the word on the street and in the corridors of power.
The most recent dismissal was of the mayor of the city of Fallujah. Mayor Issa al-Sayer was surprised to hear the news of his firing from security forces on August 29 – he was being dismissed on the orders of the province’s governor, Ali Farhan, apparently because of electoral irregularities when he was voted into office three years ago. But al-Sayer believes his removal from the post is part of a longer-running campaign to ensure that only certain political parties are in control of the province.
Al-Sayer is a member of one of Iraq’s largest, established Sunni Muslim political parties, the Iraqi Islamic Party – that is to say, one of the old school parties. Up until recently Anbar had been one of the party’s strongholds but now, its members are being side-lined by other politicians affiliated with al-Halbusi.
Al-Halbusi started in politics in 2014 and within a fairly short time, became extremely popular with voters from his own sect while at the same time gaining the trust of Kurdish and Shiite Muslim politicians. Before he even turned 40, he had been voted in as the Speaker of the Parliament, a position traditionally reserved for the country’s most senior Sunni Muslim politician, according to Iraq’s unofficial political-quota system. The ambitious politician managed to do this at the expense of older hands in the Sunni political system, like Osama al-Nujaifi and Sunni-businessman-turned-politician, Khamis al-Khanjar.
Now that al-Sayer has been dismissed, that leaves two other prominent opponents for al-Halbusi: al-Khanjar and Jamal al-Dari who both belong to the same party. Whether al-Halbusi can outmanoeuvre them too remains to be seen.
What is certain is that all the manoeuvring in Anbar is making locals nervous. They fear that security gains made after the defeat of the extremist Islamic State group will be lost as a result. If there is any kind of power vacuum, they believe that the armed groups that still exist undercover in Anbar will try to exploit this and return.
“The tribal council of Fallujah rejects this politics of exclusion and opposes the dominance of any single group, which could result in political conflicts that make the province vulnerable,” Abdul-Rahman al-Zuwaibei, head of the tribal council of Fallujah, told NIQASH. “As things are getting worse, after the dismissal of Fallujah’s mayor, our council is playing a role to try and bring the situation back to normal and to reconcile the fighting parties,” he said.
Some locals are not as worried. Independent politician Haitham al-Hiti says that the whole situation will only show up the problems with Sunni Muslim politicians and parties who claim to own Sunni votership. “This situation will reveal their real goals to the Iraqi people,” al-Hiti suggested. “Sunni Muslim society needs real leadership,” he stressed. “But that’s not happening, mainly because the current ranking figures don’t have balanced rhetoric or good international relationships.”