Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—A group of Anbar sheikhs announced on Friday a new initiative in which “deceived tribe members” fighting alongside the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) against the Baghdad government in Iraq’s Anbar governorate will have on week to lay down their arms.
Anbar governorate council member Sheikh Azal Al-Fahadwai told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The initiative gives the armed [tribal] fighters one week to lay down their arms, following which the [Iraqi] army will withdraw from the areas around Ramadi and Fallujah and hand over the security file to the local police.”
“The Anbar governorate council and the Anbar governor, in coordination with the Anbar tribal sheikhs, agreed this initiative, which is also endorsed by the central government in Baghdad,” he added.
Fahadawi continued: “The initiative includes realistic solutions to the governorate’s problems. Those who deny that ISIS is present in the region must prove this by helping the Anbar governorate council, its administration, and the Anbar tribal sheikhs . . . differentiate between those supporting and those combatting terrorism.”
Clashes in Anbar, in western Iraq, erupted in late December after Iraqi troops dismantled a protest camp in Ramadi. Sunni Arabs had been protesting in Anbar against perceived discrimination by the Shi’ite led governments throughout 2013. Following the clashes, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki agreed to withdraw the military from Anbar and allow local police to resume control of the situation.
But following the army’s withdrawal, Al-Qaeda-linked militants emerged in Ramadi, Fallujah and Tamiya, taking control of police stations. Maliki subsequently redeployed the military to Anbar, with some tribe members fighting alongside the army and others fighting alongside ISIS. The situation in the region is even further complicated, with some Sunni forces in Iraq refusing to acknowledge ISIS’s presence in Anbar, portraying the situation as a quasi-sectarian conflict.
Also speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Faris Ibrahim, a member of the Anbar Salvation Council, said: “This initiative is important because the tribal sheikhs who have negotiated this are among the most important tribal figures in Ramadi, representing their big tribes, and who played their role in fighting Al-Qaeda in 2006 and 2007. This is not to mention the presence of the Anbar governor and members of the provincial council. This realistic initiative was only reached after prolonged talks between these figures.”
“We consider anyone who has taken up arms as being against the state and the tribal forces who are confronting terrorism. They have been deceived and are not truly members of ISIS or Al-Qaeda. Therefore, they have seven days to confirm this,” Ibrahim added.
The Anbar Salvation Council member said that “if they lay down their arms, then we will all unite to confront Al-Qaeda. If they insist on keeping their position, then they have shown they are members of ISIS.”
As for the government’s reaction to the Anbar tribal sheikhs’ initiative, Ibrahim told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki endorsed this intitative during his weekly speech on Wednesday. This is the only solution to what is taking place in Anbar.”