Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki has urged the residents of Fallujah to expel insurgents of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from the city they have controlled since Saturday, to avoid the dangers of a military operation by the Iraqi army.
In a statement from the prime minister issued on Iraqi television, he called on “the tribes and people of Fallujah to expel the terrorists from the city in order to spare themselves the risk of armed clashes.”
Sources also say Maliki has ruled out an all-out assault on the city for now, preferring local tribal militias to re-take the cities lost to ISIS and its allies in Iraq’s western Anbar province.
MP Ali Al-Shalah, a member of Maliki’s State of Law Coalition (SLC), said: “The prime minister rejected demands by military commanders to storm Fallujah to expel the ISIS and Al-Qaeda insurgents.”
Shalah told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Maliki held a meeting with a number of dignitaries from Fallujah and decided not to involve the army in the fighting for fear of exposing the residents to the army’s heavy weapons, especially as the terrorists are hiding within the residential areas.”
He added: “The operation requires patience and wisdom to deal with this issue, which is tribally and politically sensitive.”
Shalah said: “An agreement was reached between Maliki and the tribal leaders to arm the tribes in order for them to take charge of the expulsion of these strangers, to be preceded by an important step, which is to return police officers to their stations, which were taken over by ISIS with the possible help of conspirators.”
Shalah added: “Military commanders want to enter [Fallujah] because they are certain they can end the operation militarily, but Maliki decided to give the tribal solution a chance before taking any steps.”
In a related issue, Shalah said: “The State of Law Coalition and Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki rejected the initiatives of Iyad Al-Allawi [leader of the Iraqiya List] and Osama Al-Nujaifi [Parliamentary Speaker], because the time was not appropriate for political initiatives, and what was needed was to stand by the nation in its crisis.”
Shalah said: “What we disagree on politically should be dealt with in parliament, while there are issues that cannot be negotiated.”
Shalah said MPs from the Mutahidoun Coalition, which is led by Nujaifi, had been hasty in resigning from parliament, and wanted a face-saving return, which is what Nujaifi’s initiative suggested when calling for a political summit.
He added that the “MPs were not balanced in their view of the terrorism and considered the entry of the army into those areas to be an occupation, which is strange logic at a time when they are calling on the government to expel ISIS and destroy terrorism, which proved they were in a state of confusion.”
The governor of Anbar Province, Ahmad Al-Dhiabi, denied reports which said he had been kidnapped by ISIS along with the leader of the Iraqi Awakening Council, Sheikh Ahmad Abu Rishah.
Dhiabi said: “We are continuing to fight in order to achieve security and stability for the residents of Anbar and expel the criminals from the province, who want harm for its people and the sons of its tribes.”
He added: “Cleansing operations were continuing by the sons of the tribes and the police all over Anbar, except in Fallujah.”
Meanwhile, an Iraqi government official told news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Saturday that “Iraqi forces were preparing for a major attack on Fallujah, and that so far had only carried out select operations by the Special Forces in specific areas.”
The commander of the Iraqi army’s land forces Lt-Gen Ali Ghaidan said: “We have no knowledge of what is taking place in Fallujah, but Fallujah must wait for what is coming.”
According to Iraqi government reports and Interior Ministry sources, 200 insurgents have been killed fighting government forces and tribal militias in the past three days. A military source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “Seven members of the Special Forces known as the Golden Team, and two armed men from the tribes fighting alongside this team, were killed in Sunday’s battles.”
The Defense Ministry for its part, said: “Up to Sunday 51 terrorists members of the ISIS and Al-Qaeda organizations were lost during the Anbar operations.”