Political conflict between the Anbar local government and the Sunni Endowment (Sunni Waqf) has intensified four months after Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) retook the city of Ramadi from the so-called Islamic State (IS). On April 22, the Anbar Provincial Council criticized Sunni Waqf Chairman Abd al-Latif al-Humayim for allegedly rushing internally displaced people (IDPs) back to areas in Ramadi that were not properly cleared of explosives, resulting in over one hundred civilian casualties.

Al-Humayim, whom PM al-Abadi appointed in February as the head of a committee to oversee the return of displaced people and reconstruction in Ramadi, responded by accusing local officials in Anbar of booby-trapping homes that were previously cleared and deemed safe for residents to return. In a statement, he denied any security violations or civilian casualties except for one incident during which three members of a bomb dismantling team were killed. Al-Humayim accused “decision-makers” in the provincial council, led by the Islamic Party, of obstructing the return of IDPs in order to funnel resources allocated for displaced families.

Anbar Governor and Islamic Party leader Suhayb al-Rawi hit back at the Sunni Endowment Chairman by challenging al-Humayim to present evidence of local Anbari officials’ involvement in mining homes. The governor said that he formed a committee to investigate the allegations, directed by Anbar Operations Commander Major General Ismael al-Mahalwi.

This is not the first allegation that Chairman Humayim made against the Anbar government headed by al-Rawi. Humayim had previously stated that mortar rockets were fired at al-Ta’mim district in Ramadi from areas controlled by a force loyal to the governor.

This hostility between al-Humayim and the Anbar local government is a manifestation of their  struggle for influence in the province. The competition poses a serious challenge to the Iraqi government’s effort to bring peace and stability back to areas recently liberated from IS.

Who is Abd al-Latif al-Humayim?

Abd al-Latif al-Humayim al-Lafi is a Sunni cleric, businessman, banker, construction contractor, and owner of al-Hadath TV channel. Humayim was born in 1952 to an influential family in Ramadi. He received his preliminary religious education from local sheikhs in Ramadi before going to Baghdad and earning a degree in literature. He later moved to Cairo to study in al-Azhar where he received a Master’s in Sharia. He returned to Baghdad and earned a PhD in Islamic economics from the University of Baghdad. The combination of secular and Islamic education seems to have had an impact on his attitude: he is an Islamic cleric with a uniquely secular mindset. He describes himself as someone who is “liberal, leftist, within an Islamic upbringing.”

Before 2003, Humayim enjoyed a close relationship with the Saddam regime, as he was the former president’s religious advisor. In the 1990s, and in line with Saddam’s “Faith Campaign”, Humayim convinced Saddam to establish the Iraqi Islamic Bank and appoint him as its chairman. Humayim is said to have made a large fortune from this position with the blessing of Saddam’s eldest son, Uday. Some even accuse Humayim of appropriating $5 billion that Saddam had given him before the Iraq war to finance an insurgency that would fight the US occupation.

After 2003, Humayim maintained an anti-American view, calling for an end of the US occupation of Iraq. It is important to mention, however, that Humayim did not resort to sectarian rhetoric to incite violence against Shia or the Iraqi government, something many expat Sunni clerics did. Unlike Harith al-Dhari and other clerics, Humayim had a more moderate, nationalist outlook and kept a neutral position towards the new political process.

Humayim returned to Iraq in 2012 and created a political coalition called Nahdhat al-Iraq (the Renaissance of Iraq) hoping to enter the political process two years before the 2014 parliamentary election. The coalition, which included many Sunni clerical and tribal figures, was opposed to federalism and the idea of a Sunni region. His return to Iraq is rumored to have been facilitated by the then prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. Al-Maliki sought Humayim’s help to offset anti-government Sunni clerics who were leading a protest movement throughout Sunni majority cities particularly in Anbar. In return, al-Maliki allegedly released assets belonging to Humayim and his relatives that were frozen after 2003. Al-Humayim’s Nahdhat al-Iraq never picked up momentum and it did not enter the 2014 elections as announced.

Humayim was thrust again into the political scene in June 2015, when Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi appointed him as the chairman of the Sunni Endowment. Al-Abadi’s decision was rejected by two of the most influential Sunni blocs in Parliament, Usama al-Nujayfi’s Mutahidoun and the Islamic Party. They objected to the appointment of al-Humayim as acting chairman of the endowment without parliamentary endorsement, and the fact that he was not selected by the Fiqh Council, an institution created by the Iraqi government to act as a sort of “Marji’ya” for Sunni scholars. Interestingly, secular Sunni MP with Ba’athist background, Dhafir al-Ani, praised the appointment of Humayim as a “brave” decision by al-Abadi. Essentially, Nujayfi saw in Humayim an obvious ally of al-Abadi who would impede his regionalist ambitions, while Ani, the Ba’athist with strong centralist roots, saw the appointment of Humayim as a good precedent for former Saddam loyalists being included in the post-2003 order.

The Political Fight for Ramadi

Al-Humayim’s struggle against local officials in Anbar was almost inevitable. By authorizing Humayim to oversee the return of displaced people and reconstruction in Ramadi, al-Abadi essentially sidelined Anbar’s governor and provincial council. The Islamic party, which has dominated the local government since 2005, sees Humayim’s involvement as an encroachment on its territory. The reason behind this thinking is twofold. First, the entity that would supervise the return of IDPs would be winning people’s hearts, and that would have major political and electoral implications. If things go as Humayim planned, he, and by extension al-Abadi, would be credited with bringing home Ramadi’s displaced residents. Second, the return of IDPs is only possible if the homes and streets of Ramadi are cleared of IEDs and booby-traps, and therefore, it is the first step to reconstruction. Islamic Party leaders, who anticipate a flow of international aid (particularly from Gulf countries) to rebuild Sunni cities, do not want to lose control of the reconstruction process and the obvious financial benefits it entails.

Anbar’s provincial politicians are rightly threatened by al-Humayim: his behavior resembles that of a politician campaigning for an election. Humayim, who is no stranger to Ramadi, has been building a name for himself with charity work and using resources from the Iraqi government and the Sunni Endowment. Wearing traditional Arab attire, and with a white beard that gives him a traditional, paternal appeal, he has been going from one street to another helping remove rubble, speaking to the locals, and leading prayer at local mosques in the city. He is also playing a role in acquitting returning residents who are thought to have collaborated with IS.

Al-Humayim, who happens to be an accomplished speaker, has been getting a lot of airtime from popular Sunni TV channels, in addition to his own channel al-Hadath and the Sunni Endowment’s channel al-Diwan. Al-Sharqiya, owned by media mogul Sa’ad al-Bazzaz, and Dijla, owned by Sunni MP Mohammad al-Karbuli and his brothers, have been emphasizing al-Humayim’s work extensively. Al-Sharqiya, for example, aired a report calling him “the first Iraqi official to spend a night in Ramadi.” Some claim that this coverage is paid, but regardless of whether this is true or not, it is helping solidify his image as a champion of the Sunni cause.

What is more worrying to leaders of the Islamic Party is that al-Humayim has allied with former Anbar Governor and Electricity Minister Qassim al-Fahdawi, who controls the second-largest bloc in the provincial council. Al-Fahdawi recognized al-Humayim’s newfound authority in Ramadi when he visited him with a delegation from the Electricity Ministry and discussed efforts to reestablish services for the city, thus bypassing Anbar’s current governor al-Rawi.

It seems that al-Humayim is going to play a significant role in the Sunni community in the upcoming phase after IS. He could restore confidence between ordinary Sunnis and the Iraqi government in Baghdad after years of mistrust. Al-Humayim could also prove beneficial in curbing separatist and regionalist plans in Sunni areas and fostering faith in the central government. That said, the Iraqi government, led by PM al-Abadi, should be vigilant to Sunni infighting after IS, as it could prove to be no less of a threat to the country’s stability than the Islamic State itself.

Ihsan Noori

Ihsan Noori is a political writer and a contributor to Inside Iraqi Politics.