Anbar Awakening: Displacing Al-Qaeda From Its Stronghold in Western Iraq


Executive Summary


In fall 2006 a group of Sunni Sheiks in Ramadi rejected al-Qaeda and began to cooperate with the U.S. forces that they had long opposed. The “Anbar Awakening” and “Anbar Salvation” movements transformed Anbar from an insurgent stronghold into an area where US forces could conduct effective operations. The local population joined the Iraqi Security Forces in large numbers. U.S. and Iraqi forces cleared Ramadi and much of the Euphrates River Valley. These efforts denied al-Qaeda access to one of its most critical bases in Iraq. The Anbar Awakening represents the potential roles that joint U.S. and ISF counterinsurgency operations can play in the re-establishment of Iraqi government: a catalyst for negotiations between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Iraq’s Sunni population, and a model for securing other provinces and developing their local governments.


Topic 1: U.S. Operations in Anbar

  • In response the Sunni Arab insurgency in 2003, U.S. forces conducted decisive operations throughout Anbar province in 2004(p. 2).
  • The presence of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, and core al-Qaeda leadership provoked sectarian violence and prompted Anbar’s local population to support al Qaeda (p. 2).
  • Despite Marine clearing operations in late 2004, support from local leaders allowed the insurgency in Anbar province to resume “forcefully in the spring of 2006” (p. 3).
  • As violence increased in Baghdad during the summer of 2006, U.S. forces transitioned from decisive operations to shaping operations in Anbar province (p3).
  • Although U.S. and Iraqi forces diminished their presence in Anbar province, residents in the capital city of Ramadi became hostile toward the Islamic State of Iraq, al Qaeda’s post-Zarqawi offshoot (p. 3)

Topic 2: The Geographical Significance of Anbar Province

  • Because Anbar province borders Syria and Jordan, contains an extensive road network, and houses a large portion of the Euphrates River the region facilitates the movement of foreign fighters and enemy weapons (p. 3).
  • Lines of communication within Anbar Province “link the major towns of the western Euphrates with the cities of northern Iraq in which former Baathist regime elements and al Qaeda once operated and still operate”: Mosul, Tikrit, Tal Afar, and Baijii (p. 4).
  • Due to thick underbrush, palm trees, and Saddam-era ordnance dumps, the Euphrates River Valley is a major transportation and supply line for enemy forces (p. 4).
  • “U.S. Marines discovered two huge caches near the Euphrates in December 2006.” It is likely that these caches “served as warehouse from which insurgents drew weapons,” in order to supply smaller bases (p. 5).
  • It is likely that al-Qaeda used Anbar’s east-west route from Falluja to Baghdad “to stage attacks in both areas” (p. 5).

Topic 3: Ramadi: Key Terrain for al Qaeda

  • Ramadi is the capital of Anbar province and all traffic from the borders of Syria and Jordan to Baghdad “must funnel through Ramadi” (p. 5).
  • Because most of the population belongs to the Dulaimi, a Sunni tribe, Anbar province “escaped much of the sectarian violence that characterized Baghdad and Baqubah in 2006 (p. 5).
  • By summer 2006, al-Qaeda prevent Ramadi’s government from functioning by focusing sniper fire at the government compound, killing members of Anbar’s Provincial Council, and attempting to assassinate the mayor (p. 5-6).

Topic 4: Clearing Operations in Ramadi: Structure and Results

  • Two objectives of the 1st Armored Division’s mission in Ramadi were to conduct combined counterinsurgency operations and neutralize the enemy (p. 6).
  • To some degree, counterinsurgency efforts in Ramadi provided a model for the Baghdad Secuirty Plan, Operation Enforcing the Law (p. 6).
  • Controlling access to Ramadi with combat outposts (COPs) disrupted enemy operations and prompted the local population to provide intelligence to coalition forces (p. 6)
  • Despite al-Qaeda’s destruction of every police station in Ramadi, months of counterinsurgency operations produced 950 new Iraqi police recruits in August 2006 (p. 7).
  • The Islamic State of Iraq responded to this increase in police recruiting and cooperation with coalition forces by terrorizing the population and attempting to impose their extreme interpretation of Islamic law. This motivated more local sheiks to join the Awakening.

Topic 5: The Enemy Response

  • Al-Qaeda responded to counterinsurgency operations in Ramadi with vigorous counterattacks against civilians, Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition Forces (p. 8).
  • The enemy attempted to damage recruitment efforts by kidnapping and murdering police recruits and their families (p. 8 and 10).
  • The enemy also staged chlorine gas attacks in order to kill and terrorize police recruits and Iraqi civilians (p. 10).
  • The chlorine gas attacks aimed to punish the population and establish symbolic parallels with Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against the Kurds in 1988 (p. 13)
  • The Anbar Awakening drove enemy fighters from Anbar into Baghdad and Diyala while counterinsurgency operations “helped reintegrate the cities of the province (p.13).

Possible Implications

  • Sustained counterinsurgency operations can deny the enemy access to critical lines of communication and earn support from the local population.
  • Counterinsurgency operations will prompt enemy forces to conduct severe retaliatory attacks against the ISF, coalition forces, and the local population.
  • The enemy’s spectacular attacks aim to send a symbolic message to a targeted audience (i.e. Iraqi civilian population, provincial governments etc.)
  • Al-Qaeda’s violent attacks and interference in local governments/tribal structures can and will produce support for ISF and coalition forces.
  • Coordinated and sustained counterinsurgency operations can disrupt enemy influence, and allow provincial governments to reintegrate and begin providing their citizens with essential services.
  • Pushing insurgents out of cities and into rural terrain makes them easier to identify and fight
    because they are less able to conceal their activities and hide within the local population.



The Anbar Awakening indicates the actions needed to convince the local population to support the government and expel enemy forces. This element of counter-insurgency success required coalition and ISF forces to work as a team while conducting simultaneous military operations and reconstruction efforts. After months of consistent cooperation, U.S. and Iraqi soldiers won support from critical members of the local population, the tribal sheiks. Although al-Qaeda attempted to regain support by terrorizing Iraqi civilians with suicide attacks and chemical weapons, the provincial government regrouped and reconnected with the central government in Baghdad. This was a critical first step toward establishing a working relationship among the Iraqi capital and its provinces.



  • Provinces of Iraq: Page 2
  • Anbar Province, Western Iraq: Page 3
  • Major Roads of Western Anbar Province: Page 4