The 2005 Iraqi Sunni Awakening: The Role of the Desert Protectors Program
by William Knarr
Issue Date: October 2015
Dr. Knarr tells the story of Al Sahawa, the Awakening, in Iraq from a perspective that is different from most narratives. Many associate the beginning of the Awakening with Sheikh Sattar Abu-Risha's 14 September 2006 proclamation in Ramadi, where he coined the term Al Sahawa. However, Dr. Knarr contends that the Anbar Awakening, as a movement, started in the northwest of Al Anbar 16 months prior to the sheikh's proclamation, with the Albu-Mahal tribe in Al Qaim District along the Syrian/Iraqi border. The Albu-Mahal realized that they could not fight Al Qaida in Iraq (AQI) on their own and pleaded for help from the coalition and the government of Iraq in what would become a fight for survival. The foundation for developing that partnership was a little known program called the "Desert Protectors." The development of the Desert Protectors and the Awakening movement in 2005 has tremendous lessons for today as a newly formed coalition organizes to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an outgrowth of AQI.