In the province of al-Anbar, the aspect of tribalism still has a lot of influence within society… and on politics. This governorate represents roughly a third of the Iraqi territory, with a population of one million eight hundred thousand inhabitants (less than 5% of Iraq’s total population. Dozens of Arab tribes live there, some of them stretching all the way to the edges of the Arabian Peninsula. However, several of them are indigenous to the province, such as the Dellim, the Al-Bouâssi, the Al-Boufradj, the Al-Bouâlouan, the Al-Boufahd, or the Shammar anza. Since 2003 and the invasion of Iraq by the US-led coalition, the province has seen many deadly incidents. Subsequently, the war against Daesh created serious social, economic and security problems that remain unresolved.

Al-Anbar and the elections

In the province of al-Anbar, the voters, spread over the 380 polling centers of the province, were expected to elect 15 parliamentarians, in four constituencies. The reshuffling of electoral districts caused by the implementation of the new electoral code divided the western province of Iraq into these four zones instead of the previous single entity. This development was to allow local candidates to surface and compete with local political heavyweights. Logically, the legislative elections held on October 10 generated serious competition between candidates from the tribes of the province. Due to this high level of tension, negotiation took place, even after the declaration of results marred by suspicions of fraud.

According to the Iraqi electoral commission, 166 candidates contested the parliamentary seats of Al-Anbar. As for the inhabitants of the province, they have regularly expressed their fear of seeing “political money” influence the electoral results.

Today, El Anbar remains strongly influenced by traditional players, embodied in particular by the Progress Party (al Taqqadum, led by the speaker of parliament Mohammed el Halboussi), which ultimately dominated the polls in the four districts of the province. Mr. El Halboussi was able to rely on the Sunni vote and tribal allegiances to rally voters to his cause in his home province. 

In the province of al-Anbar, the main competitor of the head of parliament is Sheikh Faisal Al-Shouka, (a notable of the Al-Dhiab clan of the Dhalim tribe), candidate of the “Azm” (Determination) coalition in the legislative elections. The latter detailed to The Red Line his analysis of the political issues in his province: “Each political entity has its public supporters and its reservoir of electoral votes. The tribes in Al Anbar have a preponderant role in the elections since the province is composed of a clan fabric and tribes. The local government of the province has also used public money in its electoral campaign, by financing large projects to the notables of the tribes. […] Political money therefore has a harmful influence on the course of the elections, being particularly detrimental to candidates not belonging to the dominating party in the province [the Taqaddum party]”.

However, according to the sheykh, most of the independent candidates have been able to organize themselves thanks to the support of their own tribes and that of the citizens they trust… without however managing to topple the local champion and head of parliament. It also underlines the apprehension of the citizens of the province towards electoral fraud. During the 2018 elections, fraud was barely disguised, with the complicit silence of the government.

Leadership struggle

The mostly Sunni political coalitions of the province of Al-Anbar, are those that have experienced the most divergences and leadership struggles since 2018 in the country. During these clashes, insults and accusations are legion. While cities in western Iraq still remain devastated and large geographic areas are still empty of their populations, Sunni leaders are fiercely competing for positions and attributes of power under the quota system. This system also ensures the position speaker of parliament to a member of the Sunni community, the position of Prime Minister to a member of the the Shiites and the title of president of the republic to a member of the Kurdish community.

In this context, the electoral struggle serves as an arena where personal grudges between political leaders are expressed. On several occasions, insults have flared up on the social networks of political figures. Yet, it seems that both parties (Taqqadum party and Azm party) have put aside their personal differences favoring the interests of their political compositions. According to a well-informed source, who refused to disclose his identity, Mmr el Halboussi and el Khanjar met shortly before the elections with the objective of finding a political agreement that would bring the leader of the Taqqadum movement back to the presidency of the Iraqi parliament for a second time. In return, he would provide some ministries to the Azm party.

The tribes and the political role

From a partisan point of view, contrary to popular belief, political parties in Al-Anbar province do not have the same influence as in other provinces because their influence is diminished by the importance of tribal ties. Tribes continue to play a prominent, yet not necessarily detrimental role vis-à-vis the rest of society.

In this sense, Mr. El-Chouka believes that we would not have found security in the region without its tribal structure. According to him, it was the children of the tribes who first resisted the terrorist organizations and were able to recover their province with their own hands during the bloody battles that have stained the province and the rest of the country in the last years. However, he added, tribes can also interfere in political affairs of the region since they see themselves as guarantors of its security, order and political stability.

On his side, Dr. Moâyed Al Dlimi, believes that the current electoral code has reduced the role of the tribes since the multiplication of electoral constituencies has contributed to the dispersion of votes. The weight of the tribal vote, spread over a vast territory, is no longer as effective as it was. Hence coalitions are now based on geographical rather than tribal logics. The reduction in the surface areas of the districts therefore allowed for the emergence of new candidates, which was the aim of the reform. Although the objective of the new code is not yet palpable today, the democratic impulse seems to be on at work in Iraq, given the impressive scores achieved by the independent candidates, in particular those from the Tishreen movement (the protest movement of 2019).

The tribe and politics in the eyes of the media

The vast majority of journalists that followed the Iraqi elections agree that the Iraqi tribes have played a preponderant role on the political scene but also on the social and security levels. Still, according to them, even if allegiance to the tribe is a quality, the choice of candidates should be made on the basis of objective criteria. Journalist Dhiaa Al Hamdani explains that the citizens of Al Anbar have lost faith in the State, which is why they always turn to the tribe when voting. In his statement to the “Darj” site, Mr. El Hamidani nevertheless considers that total allegiance to the tribe is an obstacle for the construction of the modern State built upon the principles ​​of citizenship and national identity. He also considers that it is the responsibility of the government to establish a climate of trust between the State and the citizen by spreading the principles of justice and equity.

Journalism professor at Al Anbar University, Raad Al Kachaa, considers that the dominance of tribal considerations during elections is a consequence of the very nature of the province’s society which is still dominated by the custom and norms inherent to tribal values. This has always weakened the authority of the State and the law in the province.

Politics money versus tribal support

In the province of Al Anbar, all means are good to have the support of the tribes. While the citizens of the province are well aware that the leaders of the Azm and Takkadoum coalitions regularly collaborate with the pro-Iranian factions and the parties in power, thereby serving as a “political showcase”, they are aware that the money is a preponderant factor which determines the decisions of the tribes and not the confessional or community affinities.

In these elections, the balance of power generally leans towards the candidates from the main political parties supported by important personalities, as is the case of the candidates of Azm and Takkadoum who won the majority of parliamentary seats. The governor of the province, Mr. Ali Farhan himself financed the electoral campaigns of several candidates with public money. This is made possible by the absence of legislation and oversight bodies that control the source of election campaign funding.

Looking at the results of the 2021 election in the province, the tribe did indeed prevail. Political parties have also won in the game of co-opting elected officials thanks to money and political influence. This status quo, which is very convenient for the political and tribal powers, allows them to perpetuate their hold on the political institutions of governmental representation in the province.

Stuck between the tribe and the party, the citizens of Al-Anbar province are the main outcasts of Iraqi politics. Given the results of the October elections, his fate will remain uncertain for a long time to come. It is therefore difficult to foresee a change of event regarding the chaos, abandonment and forced displacements that has haunted Al Anbar since 2014. Many Anbaris are also waiting to be compensated for their property destroyed during the war. It seems unlikely that the old political guard will invest more for them than what they did in the past in order to compensate the poorest of their fellow citizens.