Iraqi PM urges people to drive out al-Qaeda
Appeal to Falluja as Sunni tribesmen fight to retake areas of nearby Ramadi
Tribal fighters gesture after deploying themselves on the streets of Ramadi yesterday. In a statement on state television, Iraq’s prime minister Nuri al-Maliki called on tribal leaders to drive out militants who last week seized key towns in the desert leading to the Syrian border. Photograph: Ali al-Mashhadani/Reuters
Iraq’s prime minister has appealed to the residents of the besieged city of Falluja to expel al-Qaeda-linked insurgents, who have seized control of the city.
Nuri al-Maliki made the call in a statement on state television as anti-al-Qaeda Sunni tribesmen attempted to retake jihadi-occupied areas of the nearby city of Ramadi, the capital of restive Anbar province. More than 200 Iraqis have been killed in fighting in the province since last Friday.
Mr Maliki said if the inhabitants of Falluja, also in Anbar, drove out the jihadis, they would not “be subjected to the danger of armed clashes”. However, thousands have already fled shelling and air strikes by government force
Some refugees have made the long journey to Jordan, flooding the kingdom with a new wave, while others have flocked to Baghdad and the Shia holy city of Kerbala.
Mr Maliki has persuaded Ahmed Abu Risha, chief of the anti-al-Qaeda Dulaim tribe, to deploy troops to fight alongside the army and police against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) in both Ramadi and Falluja.
While the Dulaimi tribe was the first to join the Sahwa or Awakening Councils in 2007- 08, which fought with US forces against al-Qaeda, the sheikh can be counted on in the battle for Ramadi but not Falluja, where rival tribes have sided with Isis.
Tribal divisions have enabled Isis to consolidate its hold on these areas and stymie the government offensive. These divisions have been accentuated by rising anger against the marginalisation by Mr Maliki’s Shia-dominated government of Sunni Arabs, 20 per cent of the population, and the targeting of Sunni leaders and politicians by security forces.
Ministerial adviser Saad al- Mutalabi said Isis had smuggled weapons, ammunition and missiles provided by Saudi Arabia into Anbar from the war across the border in Syria.
Tribal dissidents have been driven to join forces with Isis by Mr Maliki’s decisions at the end of the year to break up a protest camp in Ramadi and arrest Sunni legislator Ahmed al-Alwani.
In neighbouring Syria, insurgents fought the Isis in the northern city of Raqqa, the only provincial capital that has fallen to opposition forces. At least 50 Isis captives were freed as local residents demonstrated for the third day against the group’s harsh treatment, puritanical impositions, kidnappings and killings.
The opposition Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 100 fighters on both sides had been killed in fierce clashes which have also been taking place in parts of Aleppo and Homs provinces.
Anti-al-Qaeda fighters involved belong to a collection of ultra-conservative coalitions and groups which have united only to curb and contain Isis, which has occupied Raqqa, strategic towns and villages in Idlib province along the Turkish frontier, and oil-producing areas in the eastern Deir al-Zor province.
In Istanbul, the western- backed opposition National Coalition was set to decide last night whether to attend the US-Russian sponsored peace conference scheduled to meet in Montreux, Switzerland, on January 22nd-23rd.
The largest coalition faction, the Syrian National Council, has decided to boycott the conference but opposition parties supporting participation warned that this would be “a gift to the Assad regime”, which has agreed to attend.