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

    Native Americans Ask: What About Our Water Supply?

    They say they have been facing a dangerous water contaminant for decades - uranium – but the problem has received far less attention than water contamination by lead in Flint, Michigan

    Pakistan's President Urges Nation Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day

    Mamnoon Hussain criticizes Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday this year, as a Western import that threatens to undermine the Islamic values of Pakistan

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.