Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has agreed to allow the creation of a 30,000-strong force of volunteers from Iraq’s Sunni-dominated Anbar province to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), following a meeting with expatriate tribal leaders from the province in the Jordanian capital Amman on Monday.
Abadi was in Amman for an official state visit to meet King Abdullah II of Jordan, but also met with Anbar tribal leaders currently residing in the city after being displaced when ISIS entered the province in the first months of 2014, occupying parts of the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.
Sheikh Majid Al-Ali Al-Suleiman of the Dulaim tribe told Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone from Amman that following the meeting, which he described as “very positive,” Abadi had “agreed to allow 30,000 volunteer fighters from Anbar’s tribes [to officially join the fight against ISIS], with every tribe offering a specific portion out of the total, and for the government to train and arm them.”
A number of volunteer forces, both Sunni and Shi’ite, have been formed in response to ISIS’s lightening advance across large swaths of northern and western Iraq, which saw the extremist group take control of Iraq’s second city Mosul in June after the Iraqi army suffered a series of humiliating defeats, in some cases abandoning their posts before fighting even began.
But the 30,000-strong force from Anbar may well prove controversial, with many in Iraq wary of the province’s residents, whom they allege have aided the Sunni extremist group’s control in the region.
The entry of ISIS into Anbar earlier in the year coincided with mass protests in the province over the policies of former prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki, whose policies many say discriminated against Iraq’s minority Sunni population.
Speaking of reports that the Anbar volunteer force would form the nucleus of a new National Guard, Suleiman said: “This group [of volunteer soldiers] has nothing to do with the National Guard. We refer to it instead as a ‘national mobilization’ for fighting ISIS, which must be composed of fighters from the province on the condition that they be trained and armed.”
Suleiman also said that Abadi and tribal leaders had discussed “the question of the return of [Anbar] refugees to their homes and facilitating their return, securing what is needed to achieve this, and compensating them for what they have lost.”
He added: “The most important thing we asked for, though, was that promises [by the government] be kept.”
“Among the issues we discussed with the prime minister, were policing the borders with Syria and stemming the flow of fighters into and out of [Iraq], and intensifying the airstrikes against ISIS, and that alone is capable of forcing them out [of the area],” he continued.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat regarding Suleiman’s comments, spokesman for the prime minister’s office Rafid Jabouri said the prime minister was “depending on the sons of the Anbar tribes to free their own areas and sort out security there, and the government will offer them all forms of support [in this endeavor],” adding that this outlook also applied to the Nineveh, Salah Al-Din, and Diyala provinces.
“The prime minister’s insistence on appointing the defense and interior ministers himself stemmed from this view,” he added.
Meanwhile, Fallujah’s police force announced that ISIS has sent reinforcements to the area, comprising around 250 fighters, in order to launch an attack on the city of Amiriyah Fallujah, some 19 miles (30 kilometers) south of Fallujah, adding that 10 commanders had also been sent from ISIS strongholds in Mosul and Tikrit to join the fighting.