Iraqi leader accepts US demand to arm Sunni tribesmen fighting Islamic State

Washington to give anti-IS tribesmen $18-$24m worth of arms


Iraqi prime minister Haidar al-Abadi has capitulated to US pressure by agreeing to arm Sunni tribesmen fighting against Islamic State (IS), in spite of strong objections from his Shia fundamentalist Dawa party and fellow Shia ministers.

Washington argues that the battle could be lost without Sunni tribesmen, who can deprive IS of tribal recruits and provide non-sectarian, nationalist boots-on-the-ground in the battle against Sunni IS.

Since US forces managed to contain and crush al-Qaeda, the parent of IS, during the 2007-2008 “surge” to pacify Iraq only after Sunni tribesmen joined the campaign, Washington is seeking to recreate the coalition of forces and recommit Sunni tribesmen to the defence of Baghdad.

Abadi appears to have taken this step after Washington declared its intention to arm anti-IS tribesmen with $18 million-$24 million worth of armaments – 5,000 AK-47s, 50 rocket-propelled grenade launchers and 50 82mm mortars.

A Pentagon document prepared for Congress said failure to arm tribal fighters would leave anti-IS tribesmen “reluctant” to oppose IS. At least 200 men, women and children of the Sunni al-bu Nimr tribe have been murdered by IS, which has also killed men from the al-bu Fahd tribe.

Fraction of promised funds

The sum to be allocated to Iraqi tribesmen is a fraction of the $1.6 billion proposed by the administration for training and arming the Iraqi national army and Kurdish forces, which are struggling to hold and roll back IS units occupying Falluja and parts of Ramadi in the western Anbar province as well as Mosul, Iraq’s second city, in Nineveh province.

IS fighters are currently fighting troops and pro-government tribesmen in Ramadi.

Early this month, US experts visited a former military base in Anbar with a view to set up training camps for tribal fighters. Kurdish peshmerga commanders have also called for urgent arms deliveries to Kurdish units fighting IS in the Kobani enclave on the Syrian- Turkish border and along the Iraq-Iran border where IS has launched attacks on peshmerga.

The positive spin among Sunnis created by the decision to arm tribesmen may have been partially countered, however, by the sentencing to death of former Sunni legislator Ahmad al-Alwani for the 2013 slaying of two Iraqi soldiers during an army operation to arrest him in his home in Ramadi.

Alwani belongs to the powerful Alwan tribe and was a leader of Sunni protests against the Shia fundamentalist-dominated government headed by Nuri al-Maliki. During the past three years, al- Maliki was accused of persecuting Sunnis and levelling false charges of terrorism against former vice-president Tareq al-Hashemi and former finance minister Rafie al-Essawi, both senior Sunni figures.

Under pressure to join the US-led anti-IS coalition, Turkey has begun training Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga militiamen and will provide similar aid to national guard units due to be formed in the provinces.

The Observer in London reports that two British mercenaries– James Hughes, who served with the British army in Afghanistan, and Jamie Read, who trained with French forces – have joined anti-IS fighters. A 17-year old girl of Kurdish parentage from north London may be on her way to enter Kurdish women’s units defending Kobani.

Meanwhile, German interior minister Thomas Maiziere said 550 Germans had joined jihadists to fight in Syria and Iraq. “Just a few days ago, we had 450,” he said, suggesting the recruitment rate is rising rapidly.

He expressed alarm that recruits had been “radicalised in Germany, within this society” and recommended that “prevention must be accompanied by repression”. He revealed that the authorities are monitoring another 230 people who could mount attacks on German soil.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has slammed the anti-IS campaign in Syria as a “cover” for “surreptitiously” ousting President Bashar al-Assad. Mr Lavrov argued: “The Americans say that Assad’s regime . . . brings terrorists to the region to try to topple him” and called this charge “absolutely perverted logic”.

Peace plan

Nevertheless, in a potentially significant political move, Russia, which supports Damascus, and Saudi Arabia, which seeks Assad’s overthrow, have called for a revival of the 2012 “Geneva One” peace plan proposing an end to the conflict and the creation of a transitional government that would prepare the way for democratic elections in Syria.