Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—In another sign of growing sectarian tensions in Iraq, two of the largest Sunni-majority blocs in the Iraqi parliament announced on Sunday they intend to begin negotiating with Shi’ite volunteer militias directly in a bid to persuade them to hand over members suspected of committing sectarian killings for trial.
Both the Wataniya bloc and the Iraqi Forces Alliance are boycotting parliament in response to recent alleged transgressions committed by the militias, and have now formed a joint committee that aims to begin talks with militia groups, saying they will bypass the government of Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi if it does not take action by the end of this week.
As well as attempting to convince the militias to surrender those suspected of involvement in massacres, it will also seek to control the movement of arms among them.
Raad Al-Dahalki, an MP for the Iraqi Forces Alliance, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “In the event the state fails to rein in the militias, we will begin talks with them, since they represent a serious power on the ground in Iraq, and perhaps the only one. Unless, of course, the Iraqi government proves it is capable of protecting all Iraqi citizens, without exception.”
This comes as anger and tension grow in Iraq over the abduction and killing of a prominent Sunni tribal leader in Baghdad last week.
Sheikh Qassim Al-Janabi, the head of the prominent Sunni Janabi tribe, his son Mohamed, nephew Zaid, and 10 bodyguards were abducted on Friday evening in the Al-Dawra area in southern Baghdad after unknown assailants stopped their convoy at a fake checkpoint.
Janabi, his son, and seven bodyguards were killed, but Zaid—an MP for the Iraqi National Dialogue Front in the Iraqi parliament—and three other bodyguards were set free.
Though the perpetrators of the crime remain unknown, the event has fueled an already tense sectarian environment in the country.
A video released online and purportedly of Janabi’s funeral on Sunday showed what appeared to be mourners in a procession making “insulting” comments about Shi’ism.
Saleh Al-Mutlak, Iraq’s deputy prime minister and a Sunni, described the video as being “fabricated” and warned Iraqis not to allow sectarian divisions to drive wedges between them.
Volunteer militias have had a presence in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion of the country.
Although many were heavily involved in the wave of sectarian violence that engulfed Iraq after the US-led invasion, both Shi’ite volunteer militias and Sunni tribal volunteer groups were also used by the US Army to help in the fight against Al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups in Iraq.
The recent rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has also led to a resurgence in these militias, and both Shi’ite and Sunni volunteer groups have been heavily involved in the fight against ISIS, providing much-needed support to the Iraqi Army.
However, there have been a number of recent accusations that some members of volunteer Shi’ite militias have been committing atrocities against Sunnis in villages and towns across the country, including mass killings.
In the latest of these alleged incidents, around 70 Sunni men were killed in a village in Diyala province earlier this month, days after government troops and Shi’ite militiamen entered the village as part of an offensive to rid the area of fighters belonging to ISIS.
Many Shi’ite politicians in the country have blamed ISIS for the killings, but several Sunni politicians and many others held the volunteer Shi’ite militias responsible.
Sheikh Rafi Abdul Karim Al-Fahdawi, the head of the Albufahd, one of the largest and most prominent tribes in Iraq’s western Sunni-dominated Anbar province, told Asharq Al-Awsat people in Iraq were losing faith in the government’s ability to control the militias.
He called on Iraq’s interior and defense ministers to both resign if the perpetrators of Sheikh Janabi’s murder were not brought to justice.
Meanwhile, Naim Al-Kaoud, head of Anbar’s Albunimr tribe, told Asharq Al-Awsat the government needed to rein in the militias, who “can pose a threat against anybody at any time.”
He said some Sunni tribal sheikhs were now unable to leave or enter their homes in Baghdad without disguising themselves, for fear of being attacked.