Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Chief of Staff of the Iraqi army, Gen. Babaker Zebari, met with the governor of Nineveh on Tuesday, along with regional military and security commanders, to discuss coordination between the local government and the Iraqi federal government on how to confront Al-Qaeda’s growing presence in the province.
This move comes after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—an Al-Qaeda affiliate—announced it has begun operations in Iraq’s western provinces.
A senior Iraqi security official, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said: “The meeting that brought together the Governor of Nineveh, Atheel Al-Nujaifi, and military and security leadership, was frank and direct, opening a new page between these two parties.”
“The meeting ended with a road-map of how to coordinate between the local and federal government, and the Nineveh leadership and security organizations, particularly as a lack of coordination and conflict will only allow Al-Qaeda to expand in some region of Nineveh, particularly south of Mosul,” he added.
The high-ranking Iraqi security official affirmed that the situation in Mosul is probably no different than that in other cities and region, but added that “we are aware that Al-Qaeda is focusing on the governorate, and this is related to the situation playing out in neighboring Syria.”
The official called for greater cooperation and coordination between Iraq’s local governments and Baghdad, saying that “terrorism targets everybody, and that requires a unified position to confront this phenomenon.”
For his part, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki presided over a meeting seeking ways to address Iraq’s deteriorating security situation earlier this week, particularly the growth of ISIS’s influence in the country.
ISIS has been blamed for a growing number of terrorist attacks in Iraq, most recently a coordinated suicide bomb attacks targeting police and local government officials that killed three member’s of Rawa’s local council and three policemen, among others. ISIS has been responsible for at least 22 suicide bombings in western Iraq over the past month.
For his part, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Hayes, a senior member of the Anbar Salvation Council told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Al-Qaeda has returned to Anbar province, and it has expanded to other regions from here, including Mosul, not the other way round.”
Hayes has blamed the anti-government protests and sit-ins taking place in western Iraq for “opening the door” to Al-Qaeda.
“We said from the beginning that these protests and sit-ins have nothing to do with any kinds of popular demands, whether legitimate or illegitimate, rather they have one central goal and that is to facilitate Al-Qaeda’s missions in the western provinces of Iraq,” the Sons of Iraq Council chairman added.
“The Sons of Iraq, through its coordination with the central government and the military leadership, are well aware of where these Al-Qaeda elements are located. They are hiding among the protests and sit-ins, and this has been confirmed by our own intelligence and from confessions by those who have been arrested,” Hayes told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The Sons of Iraq had given the popular demonstration three days to hand over Al-Qaeda elements reportedly involved in the latest coordinated attack in Rawa. This deadline was set to expire on Wednesday.