The dispute over naming the Anbar governor reported here before has ended. Muhammad Qassem, the candidate nominated by Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha of the Awakening of Iraq and Independents List was finally elected governor. After being criticized by other tribes, Qassem was reportedly elected by all the major blocs in the province. Now that that dispute has been resolved, the two main Awakening leaders from Anbar Sheikh Abu Risha and Sheikh Hameed al-Hayes are apparently positioning themselves for the parliamentary elections planned for the end of 2009 by reaching to Shiite parties.
On April 9, followers of Moqtada al-Sadr led a protest to mark the fall of Baghdad and to call for the U.S. to withdraw. While Sadr wanted one million to show up, only about 30,000 actually participated. One of those was Sheikh Hameed al-Hayes. Hayes told McClatchy Newspapers that Sadr had a clear vision for Iraq, and that the government should release his followers. Hayes went on to say that he agreed with Sadr that the U.S. should leave the country, and blamed them for creating sectarianism. This was a clear move by Hayes to reach out to the Sadr Trend.
At the same time Sheikh Abu Risha said that he was open to an alliance with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law list before the parliamentary elections. Abu Risha said that he and Maliki had the same vision of a unified Iraq of both Shiites and Sunnis working together.
Both Hayes and Abu Risha appear to be angling to become the leading voice of Iraq’s Sunnis. In 2005 the Sunnis largely boycotted the provincial elections, allowing the Iraqi Islamic Party to get most of the votes from Sunnis that did participate. Later in the parliamentary elections, the Islamic Party led Accordance Front won the most votes of the Sunni parties, and went on to become part of Maliki’s ruling coalition. Since then, the Accordance Front has broken apart. The Prime Minister has been working to get Parliamentarian Saleh al-Mutlaq’s Iraqi National Dialogue Front to join him as a new Sunni partner. This fragmentation of the Sunnis, who have never really had strong leadership since the fall of Saddam, allows room for the Anbar sheikhs to maneuver. Both Hayes and Abu Risha are willing to do just about anything to gain power. Hayes has been known for threatening violence to get his way, while Abu Risha has formed alliances and then broken them to further his cause. That should make Sadr and Maliki weary of joining alliances with either one of them, but with Iraqi politics now in flux after the January 2009 provincial elections, anything seems possible.
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