News / Middle East

    Iraq's Maliki to Revive Sunni Militia Role Against al-Qaida

    Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki speaks during an interview with Reuters in Baghdad, Jan. 12, 2014.
    Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki speaks during an interview with Reuters in Baghdad, Jan. 12, 2014.
    Reuters
    Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in a striking change of course, is embracing the Sunni Muslim tribal fighters whose role in combating al-Qaida he had allowed to wither after U.S. troops left two years ago.

    Al-Qaida-linked militants, feeding off widespread Sunni resentment at perceived mistreatment by his Shi'ite-led government, swept into the cities of Falluja and Ramadi two weeks ago in an embarrassing setback to Maliki.

    His chances of a third term after a parliamentary election in April hang partly on his ability to project an image as a strong national figure who can impose security and stability.

    Maliki has used al-Qaida's resurgence to muster foreign support for his government, which has otherwise disappointed the United States and allies by moving close to Iran and its failure to forge consensus with the once-dominant Sunni minority.

    International engagement was evident on Monday with a visit to Baghdad by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

    “We are happy that the whole world stood by us in an unprecedented way,” the 63-year-old Maliki, who has been in office since 2006, told Reuters on Sunday.

    Iraqi Sunni gunmen attend a patrol in the city of Falluja, Jan. 11, 2014.Iraqi Sunni gunmen attend a patrol in the city of Falluja, Jan. 11, 2014.
    x
    Iraqi Sunni gunmen attend a patrol in the city of Falluja, Jan. 11, 2014.
    Iraqi Sunni gunmen attend a patrol in the city of Falluja, Jan. 11, 2014.
    But as security unravels in Falluja, Ramadi and other parts of Sunni-dominated Anbar province, Maliki appears to have heeded U.S. and other voices urging him to do more to enlist Sunni tribal support against al-Qaida and its allies.

    He is turning the money taps back on to try to quench an insurgency by al-Qaida's latest incarnation in Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), whose rise has helped drive violence back to the worst level in five years.

    The Sahwa (Awakening) militias that joined forces with U.S. troops to combat, if not defeat, al-Qaida in 2006-07 when Sunni-Shi'ite violence was at its peak can once again expect full support and recognition from the state, Maliki says.

    “Those people contribute to achieving security and the government has to take care of them,” he said, briskly fielding questions at an ornate, flag-decked reception room in his three-story palace in Baghdad's heavily guarded “Green Zone.”

    Tribal fighters aligned with government forces are seen patrolling the streets in the city of Falluja, Jan. 5, 2014.Tribal fighters aligned with government forces are seen patrolling the streets in the city of Falluja, Jan. 5, 2014.
    x
    Tribal fighters aligned with government forces are seen patrolling the streets in the city of Falluja, Jan. 5, 2014.
    Tribal fighters aligned with government forces are seen patrolling the streets in the city of Falluja, Jan. 5, 2014.
    Any tribesmen fighting alongside the Iraqi army against al-Qaida would be considered part of Sahwa.

    “They will get regular salaries and will be recognized by the government as security personnel and will get all the benefits of the security forces members,” he said.

    No assault on Falluja

    Maliki said there would be “no limit” to recruiting, arming and equipping Sahwa fighters, whose monthly wages were more than doubled a few months ago to 500,000 dinars ($430).

    Money was not a problem, said the prime minister, since all such expenses would be met outside the state budget.

    “Because security is the priority in such circumstances, the cabinet last week approved keeping security [costs], including weapons, salaries and other equipment out of the budget,” he said.

    Sunni Muslim fighters watch as a police vehicle burns during clashes in Ramadi, Jan. 2, 2014.Sunni Muslim fighters watch as a police vehicle burns during clashes in Ramadi, Jan. 2, 2014.
    x
    Sunni Muslim fighters watch as a police vehicle burns during clashes in Ramadi, Jan. 2, 2014.
    Sunni Muslim fighters watch as a police vehicle burns during clashes in Ramadi, Jan. 2, 2014.
    Iraqi troops and armed tribesmen regained control of Ramadi, Anbar's provincial capital last week. The army is surrounding Falluja, but Maliki ruled out any frontal attack on a city which endured two devastating U.S. assaults in 2004.

    “We want to end the presence of those militants without any bloodshed because the people of Falluja have suffered a lot,” he said, insisting the people of the city must expel al-Qaida.

    “There is a good response from Falluja's sons and tribes,” he said. “We do not care how long this takes.”

    Whether Maliki can or will address the underlying grievances of the Sunni minority, which lost power when Saddam Hussein and his Baath party were toppled by U.S.-led forces in 2003, and give it a real say in Iraq's affairs remains doubtful. Sunni Arabs account for up to 30 percent of the population.

    Iraqi security forces stand guard at the site of a bomb attack in Baghdad, Jan. 12, 2014.Iraqi security forces stand guard at the site of a bomb attack in Baghdad, Jan. 12, 2014.
    x
    Iraqi security forces stand guard at the site of a bomb attack in Baghdad, Jan. 12, 2014.
    Iraqi security forces stand guard at the site of a bomb attack in Baghdad, Jan. 12, 2014.
    Relentless bombings aimed at the security forces, Shi'ite civilians, pro-government Sunni fighters and others had complicated reform efforts even before the Falluja crisis.

    For now an anti-terrorism law and “de-Baathification” provisions seen by Sunnis as discriminatory seem likely to stay on the statute books at least until the April 30 election.

    Meantime, Maliki envisages a military campaign against ISIL in Anbar and beyond, drawing strength from newly supplied U.S. Hellfire missiles, intelligence and satellite imagery, as well as recently delivered Russian attack helicopters.

    He said Iraq would eventually require combat fighters and long-range missiles to defend its sovereignty, but the immediate need was for light and heavy infantry weapons to fight al-Qaida.

    Clean-up campaign

    “This is not a battle of armies, it's a guerrilla battle, street fighting,” Maliki said, adding that troops and tribesmen needed anti-aircraft guns to use as infantry weapons against foes amply supplied with arms smuggled from distant Libya.

    The Iraqi leader said the Anbar campaign would be followed by a “clean-up” against al-Qaida in Mosul, Salahaddin and Diyala provinces. “We started in Anbar and won't stop until we finish off the last cell in this sinister organization,” he declared.

    ISIL is also on the frontline of the civil war in Syria, where it is battling President Bashar al-Assad's troops as well as rival rebel groups incensed by its ruthless behavior.

    Maliki said internal fighting between ISIL and the Nusra Front, another al-Qaida-linked group in Syria, was weakening both organizations and reducing pressure on Iraq.

    He asserted that most weapons used by militants in Iraq were coming from Syria - although fighters and arms move both ways across the porous 605-km (378-mile) border, including some Iraqi Shi'ite militiamen who are fighting on Assad's side.

    Maliki said Iraq was neutral in the Syrian conflict and frowned on any meddling by foreign fighters or outside powers.

    “We believe that aligning with any of the parties in the crisis is very risky. We absolutely refuse to be involved in the crisis in any way. No weapons, no supplies and no fighters.”

    Maliki, whose government has been accused by Washington of allowing Iranian flights to deliver weapons to Assad's forces across Iraqi airspace, said only negotiations could end the war.

    “We support Geneva 2,” he said, referring to next week's planned peace talks in Switzerland. But he made clear the conference, tasked with arranging an agreed political transition in Syria, had no right to force the Syrian leader to step down.

    “His future will be decided by his people and the ballot box,” said Maliki, who spent years in exile in Syria and Iran as an underground leader of the Shi'ite Islamist Dawa party.

    Syria has become a pawn in a fierce regional power struggle between Shi'ite Iran and Sunni heavyweight Saudi Arabia, which was aghast when the U.S. occupation after Saddam's fall brought about the elections that empowered Iraq's Shi'ite majority.

    Maliki criticized Saudi Arabia, which supports rebel groups in Syria, noting Riyadh itself had suffered al-Qaida attacks.

    “We tell the Saudis absolutely frankly: 'Do not support in other countries what you are fighting in your own.'”

    You May Like

    Russia Sees Brexit Impact Widespread but Temporary

    Officials, citizens react to Britain’s vote to exit European Union with mix of pleasure, understanding and concern

    Obama Encourages Entrepreneurs to Seek Global Interconnection

    President tells entrepreneurs at global summit at Stanford University to find mentors, push ahead with new ideas on day after Britain voters decide to exit EU

    Video Some US Gun Owners Support Gun Control

    Defying the stereotype, Dave Makings says he'd give up his assault rifle for a comprehensive program to reduce gun violence

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora