Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Iraqi Tribal Revolutionaries coalition—which has previously announced its rejection of the Baghdad central government and its intention to enter the capital and topple Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki—has said it is prepared to support the Islamic caliphate announced by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) if the militant group topples the Maliki government.
This represents the most overt indication of coordination between ISIS and Iraq’s anti-Maliki Sunni Arab tribes, which had previously rejected any claims of alliance with the Islamist group.
Iraqi Tribal Revolutionaries spokesman Sheikh Raad Abdul Sattar Suleiman, a senior member of the Dulaim tribe—which has over 3 million members in Iraq—told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Iraqis are prepared to accept help from any party in order to defeat the gang that is ruling Iraq. We are Iraqis. We can change Maliki and his rule, and we will change the whole political process in Iraq.”
As for the relations between the Iraqi Tribal Revolutionaries and ISIS, Suleiman acknowledged that “there is coordination,” contradicting previous statements from the tribal coalition that it is not affiliated to the militant group. The Emir of the Dulaim tribe, Ali Hatim Al-Suleimani had earlier told Asharq Al-Awsat: “When we get rid of the government, we will be in charge of the security file in the regions, and then our objective will be to expel terrorism—the terrorism of the government and that of ISIS.”
“It is clear that this [anti-Maliki insurgency] is a tribal revolution, but the government is trying to forces us all to wear the robe of the terrorists and ISIS,” he added.
However Suleiman, who is also head of the tribal coalition’s Coordination Committee, revealed that the anti-Maliki tribal rebels could pay allegiance to ISIS’s Islamic State in a post-Maliki Iraq.
“We told them [ISIS], via intermediaries, that the time was not right for the announcement of a caliphate and that our aim is to enter Baghdad and cleanse it from this government. We asked their leaders to inform [ISIS leader] Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi that only after this has been achieved will we declare him as caliph . . . But at this time, we do not support the caliphate as we have yet to enter Baghdad. That is our next objective.”
“We will not fight ISIS over minor details, such as the caliphate and so on . . . If ISIS liberates Iraq and expels the Iranians who are backing the Maliki government, we will give it our blessing and support its Islamic State. The important thing is to save Iraq from the Iranians,” he added.
The Iraqi Tribal Revolutionaries spokesman sought to play down the prominence of ISIS and its Islamic caliphate, stressing that it is Iraqi’s Sunni Arab tribesmen who have led the fight against government forces. “We are the ones who liberated Anbar and Mosul. ISIS does not have more than 2,000 fighters while there are millions of tribesmen who are fighting this government to end its oppression and corruption,” Suleiman said.
“ISIS is with us, in one front, against the government. We do not want to fight ISIS. They are fighting the government alongside us,” he added.
The Iraqi military, backed by Shi’a militias, is preparing to retake territory held by ISIS and Sunni Arab tribesmen, including the strategically important city of Tikrit. At the same time, the Iraqi Tribal Revolutionaries have warned that they are preparing to advance on Baghdad to topple the government.
“The revolutionary forces can win the battle for Baghdad in a matter of hours, just like they won the battle for Mosul. There are revolutionary sleeper cells in the capital that are waiting for the ‘zero hour’ to besiege the government and topple it,” Suleiman said.
However Salah Al-Din Governor Ahmad Al-Jabouri told Asharq Al-Awsat that government forces are making advances in the north. “Around 70 percent of the environs of the city of Tikrit have been recaptured by government forces,” he said, adding that “the army is advancing slowly towards the city for two main reasons: first, the improvised explosive devices that have been placed by the armed insurgents in the wake of their retreat; second, the non-arrival of military supplies and reinforcements that will allow the government forces to keep control of territory after it recaptures it.”
“The suburbs of Tikrit are not completely under control of the insurgents, and fighting is ongoing even inside the city. Tikrit has become a ghost town after its residents have fled in the face of the military operations. The insurgents now are working to place IED’s along the path to the city to obstruct the advance of the government forces,” he added.