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Anbar delegation to call on US to provide more arms, training - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Sunni volunteers carry weapons during a parade as they prepare to fight against militants of the Islamic State, in the town of Amriyat al-Falluja in Anbar province, January 8, 2015. (Reuters)

Sunni volunteers carry weapons during a parade as they prepare to fight against militants of the Islamic State, in the town of Amriyat al-Falluja in Anbar province, January 8, 2015. (Reuters)

Anbar, Asharq Al-Awsat—A delegation of officials and tribal sheikhs from Iraq’s Anbar province is preparing to travel to Washington to request more military assistance from the US in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The provincial delegation will be led by Anbar Governor Suhaib Al-Rawi and include senior Iraqi officials and Anbar tribal sheikhs.

“The Anbar delegation will depart for Washington on January 18 and will discuss the issue of arming [Anbar] tribal fighters to completely liberate Anbar from ISIS,” deputy chairman of the Anbar provincial council, Faleh Al-Issawi, said.

In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Issawi stressed that Baghdad and Washington must do more to help Anbar’s tribal fighters in the battle against ISIS. Although the US-led anti-ISIS coalition is carrying out airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq, operations have mostly focused on northern and central parts of Iraq.

ISIS is in control of approximately 85 percent of Anbar—Iraq’s western-most province—with observers believing that jihadist fighters must first be pushed out of other regions of Iraq before any major military operation to liberate Anbar can be launched amid fears that any arms could fall into ISIS hands.

“The process of arming Anbar tribesman will take place in an official manner via the central government and only those capable of fighting ISIS will be armed,” Issawi said.

“Any arms will be returned to the central government after the cities of Anbar have been liberated from ISIS,” he added.

Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, a prominent Anbar tribal leader who heads the Iraq Awakening Council, also called on Washington to do more to aid Anbar’s anti-ISIS tribal fighters.

“The objective of this visit comes within the framework of Anbar province’s efforts to secure more arms from the Iraqi army and increase the advisory and training role being played by the international coalition in Anbar, including training thousands of Anbar tribal volunteers,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Approximately 300 US troops have been posted to the Ain Al-Assad base in western Anbar to help train anti-ISIS forces, including volunteer “national mobilization” forces, which are predominately made up of Anbar tribal fighters. However Anbar tribal sheikhs have called for far greater engagement from both the central government and Washington.

Anbar provincial council member Arkan Khalaf Al-Tarmouz described Baghdad’s efforts to arm the Anbar tribes as “lacking credibility,” warning that political agendas could be getting in the way of preventing the complete destruction of the province.

“I am pessimistic about the delegation’s trip to Washington and I don’t think that it will achieve any of its objectives,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat, dismissing the visit as a publicity stunt.

“If the Americans were really serious about fighting ISIS, we wouldn’t need to travel to Washington to ask for assistance,” he said.

While Sheikh Naim Al-Kaoud, head of the Albunimr tribe that is fighting ISIS in the province, also played down the Anbar delegation’s attempt to secure military assistance. He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “With all due respect, this delegation does not represent Anbar’s tribes whatsoever; it represents the central government and political parties. It should represent the people who are fighting, not those who are staying in hotels.”

“The delegation members should have met with us as we are the ones who are fighting on the ground. They do not know anything about what is happening here, they are all making statements from outside Anbar, from the lobbies of luxurious hotels,” he said.