GOING TRIBAL: As the conflict between the Islamic State in Iraq and a-Sham and the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moves south toward Baghdad, the recent speeches of a prominent tribal leader in Anbar province paint a more complicated picture of Iraq’s sudden descent into chaos.
In the majority-Sunni western Iraq province of Anbar, where ISIS has retained swaths of control since January, tribal leader Sheikh Ali Hatem a-Suleiman rejects the al-Qaeda splinter group even as he leads what he calls “military revolution” against al-Maliki.
“The revolutionaries can easily get to Baghdad,” Suleiman tells Sunni opposition television channel al-Taghier in the clip above. “But our goal is to arrive at the place where Maliki is hiding…this government has no legitimacy.”
Suleiman demanded Maliki resign as prime minister and an emergency government be formed “that recognizes our rights, the Sunnis.”
Short of that, the tribal leader said, “there is nothing left to say.”
Suleiman’s direct threats of Maliki reflect a more provocative and bold stance rom a speech he made on a visit to Jordan last month.
“No meeting or communication will take place with any official from the al-Maliki regime, or any representative of it,” he said, adding that the Sunni revolution would continue but stopped short of directly challenging Maliki.
Anbar’s tribal “revolution” protests the overreaches of al-Maliki’s Shiite government, and defends what a-Suleiman calls “the rights” of the province’s tribes.
“No [peace] initiative will be held without the withdrawal of the Iraqi army from the grounds of the province,” he continues.
But amidst reports that Sunni tribal groups have been supporting ISIS’s recent advance, Suleiman’s speech rejects ISIS, denying any connection between the groups.
In the past week, ISIS has seized Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein and Bayji, the nation’s largest oil refinery, all while threatening an advance on al-Maliki in Baghdad. On Monday, ISIS reportedly captured the town of Tel Afar, on the Syrian border.
“We warn the fronts who have come to Anbar and…are trying to take advantage of the situation in Anbar,” the sheikh says. “If you continue in your actions, there will be a cruel response, to you and to those who support you from abroad.”
For the tribes of Anbar, Suleiman says, the problem is Maliki, not ISIS.
“Our problem is not ISIS right now, our problem is the government chaos,” Suleiman said in an interview Sunday aired on al-Taghier, an Iraqi channel opposed to al-Maliki.
“Al-Maliki is mobilizing troops, and gathering the world to strike the Sunni people of Iraq,” he added.
Meanwhile, as ISIS moves toward Baghdad, the United States has evacuated some its embassy personnel, sent an additional 100 troops to Baghdad to protect the facility and moved an aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf.