Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iraq’s restive western province of Anbar is on the verge of completely falling into the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) unless urgent action is taken to address military failures, the Anbar Tribal Council warned on Wednesday.
The Anbar Tribal Council, the senior-most Sunni tribal organization in the province, is backing central government attempts to combat ISIS but has complained to Baghdad about the appointment of Lt. Gen. Rashid Fleih as head of the Anbar Military Command, calling for him to be replaced. In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Anbar Tribal Council member Faris Ibrahim said “[Fleidh] is unable to do anything.”
“The security situation in Anbar Province is going from bad to worse due to a lack of support, as well as the almost complete absence of security and military leadership. The military leadership is unable to devise new plans to address ISIS advances on the ground,” Ibrahim added.
“ISIS has strongly advanced in a number of areas in the province following the formation of the international alliance, as part of attempts to impose their position on the ground as a fait accompli.”
The Anbar Tribal Council member alleged that ISIS is also setting up sleeper cells in the province with the objective of entrenching its position and securing even more territory.
More than 500,000 residents of Anbar province have been displaced by fighting between Iraqi forces and ISIS since the conflict began in December 2013. Despite Iraqi military efforts and the formation of an international alliance to combat the terrorist group, ISIS has continued to advance in Iraq. ISIS forces most recently took over the town of Hit last week, leading to attempts by Shi’ite volunteer fighters backed by Iraqi military forces to recapture the western town.
“It is strange that while ISIS is developing its presence and capabilities on the ground in Anbar, military and security leadership are not doing anything new to address this. As a result of this, most parts of Anbar province are now completely in ISIS’s hands, including Ramadi city center,” Ibrahim told Asharq Al-Awsat.
It was Anbar’s police force that was protecting citizens from ISIS, he said, adding that military forces were actively hindering efforts to combat the extremist group. “Unfortunately, the military has become a source of assistance for ISIS because for the most part ISIS is able to attack and defeat the military, taking control of their arms and equipment,” said Ibrahim.
International efforts to combat ISIS in Iraq have focused on central and northern parts of the country, where ISIS is actively advancing. The terrorist group had initially advanced into Iraq from Syria through the western province, which had been the center of a Sunni-led protest movement against former Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s government over its perceived sectarian bias.
The government put together by the new premier, Haider Al-Abadi, has received a cautious welcome from Iraq’s Sunnis. However, the Anbar Tribal Council has called for Baghdad and the anti-ISIS international alliance to do more for Anbar.
Faris Ibrahim called on Baghdad to do more to tackle ISIS in Anbar, saying it was a critical front in the overall struggle, yet remained overlooked.
He said: “These operations have not reached the required level. It is strange that Anbar province has been completely forgotten over the past three months with the focus being on Mosul and the northern provinces. However, everybody knows that Anbar is the main incubator of ISIS and it is expanding to Iraq’s other regions from here . . . Therefore ignoring Anbar has led to disaster, as we are seeing today.”