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

Hostage Crisis Could Divide Japan Over Plans to Boost Military

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday the government is working closely with the Jordanian government to secure the release of remaining Japanese hostage Kenji Goto More

Video Brussels Shaken as New Greek Leader Challenges Europe’s Austerity Drive

Country's youngest ever PM Alexis Tsipras, 40, sworn in Monday and says he will restore dignity to Greece by ending spending cuts More

Multimedia National Geographic Photo Camps Empower Youth

Annual mentoring program's mission is to give young people a voice to tell their own stories through photography More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid