"We liberated the Anbar, we defeated al Qaeda by denying it religious cover," Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Reisha said with a touch of pride and impatience. This was the dashing tribal leader who emerged as the face of the new Sunni accommodation with American power, and who was assassinated by al Qaeda last week. I had not been ready for his youth (born in 1971), nor for his flamboyance. Sir David Lean, the legendary director of "Lawrence of Arabia," would have savored encountering this man. There was style, and an awareness of it, in Abu Reisha: his brown abaya bordered with gold thread, a neat white dishdasha, and a matching headdress. "Our American friends had not understood us when they came, they were proud, stubborn people and so were we. They worked with the opportunists, now they have turned to the tribes, and this is as it should be. The tribes hate religious parties and religious fakers."
We were in Baghdad, and the sheikh gave me his narrative. There was both candor and evasion in the story he told. Al Qaeda and its Arab jihadists had found sanctuary and support in the Anbar; they had recruited the "criminal elements" and the "lowly," they had brought zeal and bigotry unknown to the Iraqis. Initially welcomed, they began to impose their own tyranny. They declared haram (impermissible) the normal range of social life. They banned cigarettes, they married the daughters of decent families without the permission of their elders. They violated the great code of decent society by "shedding the blood of travelers on routine voyages." The prayer leaders of mosques were bullied, then murdered.
Abu Reisha and a small group of like-minded men, he said, came together to challenge al Qaeda. "We fought with our own weapons. I myself fought al Qaeda with my own funds. The Americans were slow to understand our sahwa, our awakening. But they have come around of late. The Americans are innocent; they don’t know Iraq. But all this is in the past, and now the Americans have a wise and able military commander on the scene, and the people of the Anbar have found their way. In the Anbar, they now know that the menace comes from Iran, not from the Americans."" Fouad Ajami
Ajami is a Lebanese Shia by birth. He is an American by adoption and naturalization, and a great scholar. He has "blown" hot and cold on the neocon vision for his native region of the world, seemingly, this has depended on whether or not the "temperature" of the moment favored the neocon Jacobins. In other word he has been something of an opportunist.
Nevertheless, this is a good article. It accurately portrays the origins of the Sahwa al Anbar. Petraeus told the Congress that the revolt was a "political phenomenon" which the US eventually had the wit to sponsor. This "awakening" is now spreading not only to less specifically tribal parts of Sunni Iraq but also to the Shia tribes in the southwestern deserts. A lot of these tribes extend across the Shia/Sunni barrier. This is a factor. Another is the simple fact that the Jeish al-Mahdi and other Shia zealot groups are acting towards the Shia tribes in much the same way that Al-Qa’ida acts toward the Sunni tribes of Anbar and other regions.
Is Ajami’s article a valid argument for a long term American military presence in Iraq? I think not. For the ongoing and still somewhat tentative process of tribal and conservative Muslim elimination of extremist movements to flower and continue to a logical conclusion, there must be belief in the collective Iraqi mind that the Ajanib (us) are definitely going to leave, be gone, and not remain as neo-colonialists in their country.
If that happens then, a new balance in Iraq on some realistic basis of relative strength (armed) will emerge and there is some hope that the state of Iraq will be preserved. Will that state be unitary or federal in fact? It is not possible just yet to see that far into "the undiscovered country" of the future. You must wait to know the future of Iraq.
Nevertheless, to arrive in that undiscovered country with some chance of saving the situation, a declared policy of gradual withdrawal such as on the basis of "An Iraq Program" (below) is a pre-requisite. pl