By Stephen Wicken and Sam Wyer | The Iraqi Army’s fatal shooting of eight anti-government protesters in Fallujah on Friday, January 25, has increased fears that violence will escalate further. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has attempted to use a combination of concession and repression to deescalate tensions and gradually force the reduction of anti-government protests.
The Iraqi Ministry of Defense, for example, quickly opened an investigation into the Fallujah shooting. The army also withdrew from Fallujah to avoid further confrontations with angry protesters or radical elements. Maliki then held a joint security meeting with provincial security officials in order to stress the Iraqi Government’s “keenness to deal positively with the demonstrations and the demonstrators.” Meanwhile, the head of the committee tasked with addressing demonstrators’ demands, Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani, announced on January 29 that the government would increase the salaries of around 41,000 members of the Sahwa movement. The move is likely aimed at discouraging Sunni tribesmen from joining or supporting al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).
Maliki has also begun to move against the tribal leaders who have assumed leadership of the protest movement, however. Maliki was reported to have removed the security detail of prominent Anbari Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha on January 30. In response, the Council of Anbar Tribes pledged to protect Abu Risha in the absence of government protection. Then on January 31, an Iraqi Army force—reportedly deployed from Baghdad—arrested Sheikh Meshaal Nawaf al-Hassan and his two sons in Tikrit. Hassan is thought to be a strong supporter and prominent organizer of the Salah ad-Din protests.
Sunni tribal leaders largely have refrained from calling for a violent reaction to the Fallujah incidents, and many have urged restraint. It is possible that Abu Risha and Dulaimi tribal leader Ali Hatem al-Suleiman are awaiting Maliki’s response to the former’s ultimatum that the government turn over the troops responsible for killing protesters in Fallujah within seven days – a deadline that would expire this coming weekend. Various Iraqi tribal representatives held a Conference of Iraqi Unity in Najaf on January 28,in which they called for the rejection of sectarianism, the release of uncharged detainees, the unity of Iraq, and the de-escalation of the tension in Anbar. The possibility remains, however, that tribal leaders are quietly mobilizing forces in anticipation of further clashes. (READ MORE)