Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Anti-government Iraqi Sunni tribes are marching on Baghdad with the objective of toppling Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and forming a national “salvation” government, a tribal spokesman told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Abu Abed Al-Naimi, spokesman for the “Iraqi Tribal Rebels,” said: “Our aim is to topple Maliki’s government, end Iran’s intervention [in Iraq] and form a salvation government.”
“Several sides, including Iraqi military officers in Baghdad, are supporting us and are prepared to join our fighters once we enter the capital,” he added.
Naimi’s comments come after embattled Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki refused to give up his quest for a controversial third term in office. “I will never give up my candidacy for the post of prime minister. I will remain a soldier, defending the interests of Iraq and its people,” he said in a statement on Friday in response to an earlier offer by Sunni rival Osama Al-Nujaifi to facilitate the establishment of a new government. Nujaifi, leader of the Mutahidoun coalition, had said that he would agree not to seek another term of Speaker of Parliament if Maliki agreed not to seek another term in office.
The Iraqi Tribal Rebels is a shadowy coalition of Iraqi Sunni Arab tribes, mostly present in the Sunni-majority provinces of Anbar, Diyala, Karbala, Nineveh, Salah Al-Din and Kirkuk, where dissatisfaction towards the policies of the Maliki government have peaked. Observers are unclear over the precise nature of the relationship between Iraq’s anti-government Sunni Arab tribes and Sunni militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which last week announced the establishment of an Islamic caliphate comprising territory in eastern Syria and western Iraq.
While both sides oppose the Mailki government, which Iraq’s Sunnis claim has pursued a policy of sectarianism, it is not clear whether Sunni tribesman are fighting directly alongside ISIS against the government or are exploiting the presence of the Islamist militant group to launch a separate insurgency.
Contradicting the prevailing narrative that Tikrit is under ISIS control, Naimi told Asharq Al-Awsat that the city is in the hands of Iraq’s Arab Sunni tribes.
“It is the Iraqi tribal rebels who are in control of the city of Tikrit and its suburbs, with the exception of the [neighboring city of] Samarra,” Naimi said. He claimed that state media was exaggerating fears of ISIS in order to gain regional and international support, denying that Iraq’s tribal rebels are supporting the militant group.
“We are Iraqis and we side with our people, whether they are Shi’ites, Sunnis—whether Arabs, Kurds or Turkmen—and Christians. We do not wish to establish sectarian rule like Maliki and his group did.”
“We will seek to eliminate ISIS after we realize our goals of getting rid of Maliki,” the Iraqi Tribal Rebels spokesman added.