Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat—Sunni tribal forces must unite within the framework of a National Guard force in order to effectively confront the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Nineveh Governor Atheel Al-Nujaifi said.
The Nineveh governor, brother of Iraqi Parliamentary Speaker and Mutahidoun coalition leader Osama Al-Nujaifi, spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the sidelines of his recent visit to Washington during which he met with senior US State Department figures to discuss anti-ISIS efforts.
“We have asked the anti-ISIS coalition for assistance in Nineveh, including coordination between the role that Baghdad is carrying out and the role being carried out by the international alliance. We also previously issued a request to the US embassy for cooperation in training and arming the people of Nineveh,” Nujaifi said.
The Nineveh governor called on the US-led anti-ISIS alliance to do more to arm and train local Iraqi forces, saying that Baghdad would not object to Washington directly arming Sunni tribesmen in his province outside of the supervision of the Iraqi government. He stressed that Nineveh’s Sunni tribesmen are the most qualified to lead the war against ISIS in the province.
Much of Nineveh, a Sunni-dominated province, remains under the control of ISIS fighters, including the provincial capital Mosul. In previous comments to Asharq Al-Awsat in November, Nujaifi indicated that a major military offensive could be launched to liberate Iraq’s second city in early 2015.
“What we require is the unification of the tribal ranks to form a united ground force whose mission will be to assist the Iraqi army, rather than being an alternative to it. Government forces must be the primary force, and the tribal forces will assist, rather than replace them. Relations must not be based on tribal or religious affiliations, but on the basis of Iraqi citizenship,” Nujaifi said in his most recent comments to the newspaper.
“We want the US to train and arm our [tribal] forces, providing them with weapons capable of confronting the arms possessed by ISIS. We want to see strategic cooperation, air support and increased military coordination,” he said.
“We want to see our tribal forces as part of government security services, which must include Iraqis of all stripes, whether Kurds, Shi’ites or Yazidis,” he added.
The governor of Nineveh also warned Asharq Al-Awsat about Iran’s presence in the country. Nujaifi said: “Nobody can deny that Tehran is supporting Shi’ite militias and is part of the fight against ISIS. However the Iranians want to fight ISIS separately to the fight being carried out by the Arab Sunnis and this represents a grave threat. Iran’s policy is based on Shi’ite mobilization and supporting Shi’ite militias, but this will ultimately harm security in the country and exclude Arab Sunnis from the security apparatus, creating the conditions for the emergence of terrorist groups similar to ISIS. Arab Sunnis must be partners in Iraq’s security services.”