Thursday, February 05, 2009

Anbar Err...Going Back to Sleep

The dramatic security gains in Anbar province related to the so-called Anbar Awakening--which consisted of the US paying and arming former Sunni insurgents to root out Al-Qaeda--has been widely touted as one of the most significant successes of the Iraq War, evidence of the wisdom of the 2007 troop surge, and even held up as a model that, if properly replicated, can produce similar successes in the war in Afghanistan.

As Awakening triumphalists crowed about the success of the empowering Sunni tribesmen during the post-surge euphoria, some skeptics quietly pointed out that arming and empowering local tribal groups may not be the best way to move toward the US goal of a strong Iraqi central government. This threat seemed to metastasize as the Maliki government, ambivalent at best toward the Awakening movement, dragged its feet on properly incorporating the Sunni tribesmen into Iraq's formal security forces.

Today, the Washington Post reports that Awakening leaders, greatly displeased at the apparent outcome of the recent elections, are crying foul and pledging not to recognize the election results if they keep the rival Iraqi Islamic Party in power in the province.

Money quote:

"We will form the government of Anbar anyway," vowed [key Awakening leader] Ahmed Abu Risha, his voice dipping to a quiet growl. The tribesmen seated in his visiting room, where photos of U.S. generals and Sunni monarchs adorn the walls, nodded in approval. "An honest dictatorship is better than a democracy won through fraud," Abu Risha said.

This seems like a prime case of what the intelligence community refers to as blowback--although in this case the operation in question was not covert. As Spencer Ackerman suggests, it is unlikely that the Awakening members will return to their former life as insurgents, but intercommunal conflict in Anbar between the Awakening and Iraqi Islamic Party seems likely if the the former persist in refusing to accept the results of the election.

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