Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The post-Awakening world according to Abu Roman

Jordanian journalist Mohammed abu Roman, writing in Al-Hayat, outlines what he says could be called a "post-Awakening" configuration of the Sunni armed groups, and of Arab Sunni society generally. The main semi-new point: He asserts unequivocally that a substantial number of local commanders in the Islamic Army of Iraq formed local Awakening groups in cooperation with the Americans, on the argument that the biggest immediate threat is the expanding Iranian influence or "occupation" in the country, and that it is undesirable to fight on two fronts at the same time. (In addition of course to the $300 a month per head). Abu Roman doesn't offer any enlightenment on what they mean by "fighting an occupation" by a neighboring Islamic country that doesn't have an occupying military presence.

Rather, what he focuses on are plans by the Awakening/IAI groups for the formation of a political entity that would aim to protect the interests of the Arab Sunni community in an environment where inimical Iranian influence is strong. In this, he says, they have been opposed by the Islamic Party of Iraq, which is anxious to protect its semi-monopoly on political representation of the Arab Sunnis.

To the extent that the Awakening/IAI groups have been mostly successful in their immediate aims of driving out the ISI/AlQaeda groups from Sunni areas, the movement is now at a crossroads, abu Roman says. They could either collapse as a coherent grouping, or they could put together a political project. And in the latter sense, he says there are projects in the works.

On the other hand, he acknowledges that there are also indications of local movements in the opposite direction, back to fighting the American occupation. He writes
But the recent period has seen the emergence of sharp differences within the IAI, that in some cases have led to formation of cells for military operations against the American forces, thus breaking the truce [which he says the IAI has formed with the Americans]. This has embarrassed Abu Azeem and his group, and it coincides with the emergence of sharp differences between some of the Awakenings and the Islamic Party, and [between some of the Awakenings and] the American forces.
But abu Roman's focus is on organized efforts in the other direction. He says there have been talks including the Awakenings and some of the armed groups (not only the IAI)
...in the direction of abandoning resistance to the American occupation and focusing instead on the interests of Iraqi Sunnis in the face of what abu Azzam calls the expanding Iranian influence. And this trend has taken steps in the direction of forming an appropriate political entity, [in the sense that] there have been discussions within armed factions in that connection (Islamic Army, Jaish al-Fataheen, Ansar al-Sunna sharaiya group, Jaish al-Mujahideen...)
The parentheses and the dots are abu Roman's.

Abu Roman continues:
Sources within that trend say they are intent on issuing a founding political declaration, along with fatwas in support of the legality and conceptual rightness of this trend, as well as of the Sunni Awakening project. However, there is confirmation that the Awakenings will be distributed among a variety of political entities, and this is generating a variety of different Sunni political projects.
And he tells the recent story of a plan by Abu Risha to turn the Anbar awakening into something called the "National Movement for Development and Reform", plagued with disputes that ended up with the famous threat by Hamid Hayes against the Islamic Party. Abu Roman's point is that although this ended up as a brawl that attracted wide attention, the point, he thinks, is that there is such a "trend" in the direction of trying to fashion a political entity or entities out of these groups.

(With respect to the cooperation between IAI and the Awakenings, abu Roman notes: Sources close to the IAI stress the negative role of the Islamic Party of Iraq in blocking these projects, in the interests of protecting its own position as representative of Sunni society. But he says it is important to remember in this respect that the Islamic Party represents the "Muslim Brotherhood" trend among the Sunni groups (including being relatively amenable to politics generally, while the Islamic Army, he says, is Salafi (including being traditionally less amenable and more focused on following revealed shariah law).

Abu Roman concludes by outlining what he says is the new configuration of Sunni armed groups. At the end of the spectrum he calls the "right" (that would be the "religious right" in American parlance), there is still the ISI/AlQaeda grouping. (He says Baghdadi was in fact a fiction, there having been three figurehead leaders in the recent period (one killed, one in American custody and one still at large), while actual leadership continues to be exercised by Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, and the latest news on their strategy still has to do with attacking the Awakenings). Their aim, as is well known, isn't nationalist, but transnational. At the other end of the spectrum there are still the Brigades of the 1920 Revolution and the other groups close to the Association of Muslim Scholars. These continue to adhere to the nationalist program of fighting the American occupation and trying to hasten their withdrawal.

(Here abu Roman's remarks are interesting: He says people in these groups admit they have been weakened recently, partly by the popularity of the Awakenings, but also because the withdrawal of the Mahdi Army from active operations resulted in a diminished sense of anxiety and immediacy on the part of Sunni supporters generally, and this has meant less support in money and personnel).

In abu Roman's configuration, the IAI is "between" the ultra-Salafi ISI/AlQaeda group and the nationalist 1920 Brigades/AMSI grouping. In any event, he says the run-up to the October local elections (if in fact they are to be held by then) will be an initial test whether the political initiatives he is talking about have any substance or not.

A skeptical reading of this: It is normal and to be expected that Awakening leaders would be looking for political recognition. But the involvement in this project of breakaway factions of the armed resistance groups, on the basis that fighting Iran is more important--and more immediately beneficial to Sunni society generally--than fighting the American occupation, seems to be based so far only on his report to the effect that "there are talks..."


Anonymous Steve said...

"Abu Roman doesn't offer any enlightenment on what they mean by "fighting an occupation" by a neighboring Islamic country that doesn't have an occupying military presence."

Does he mean Badr perhaps?

I saw some reporting from Anbar on this subject with an Awakening commander being very pleased that they are managing to push the interior ministry out of the province - with the assistance of the US. I think this is also an underlying factor in the ongoing blackmail being conducted in Diyala with regard to ridding themselves of the police chief.

Great posts recently Badger. After our post-screening q&a's and on our site, we point people in your direction in order that they can acquire a more holistic view of the events in Iraq and it's good to see you're maintaining your high standards.


10:29 AM  

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