Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki pledged on Wednesday to “crush Al-Qaeda” in Anbar, urging tribal leaders in Fallujah to drive their fighters out of the city.
In his televised weekly speech Maliki stressed the continuation of military operations in Anbar, and in Fallujah in particular, in order to expel Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters whom he accused of committing violations against civilians.
“It is time we resolve this issue and end the presence of this gang in Fallujah,” he said, urging Anbar’s tribal leaders to “take a critical position against the gunmen’s presence, without suffering losses or making sacrifices.”
Recruits from local Anbar tribes have been fighting alongside the Iraqi army, which has launched an offensive in the province in recent weeks after suspected ISIS militants overran Fallujah and Ramadi, expelling police and security forces from the cities.
But relations between residents in Anbar and the government have been stormy. Residents of the Sunni-dominated province having recently staged a months-long sit-in over what they saw as unfair treatment by Maliki’s Shi’ite-dominated government, which was forcibly dispersed. on December 30 by security forces.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Hamid Al-Mutlaq, MP for Fallujah, said: “A political solution is still possible but it needs wisdom, goodwill and insight as to what consequences may result from taking any military measure in Fallujah or any other city.”
“What complicated the political and security scene there was the attempt to involve the military in operations that are the responsibility of the security apparatus,” Mutlaq said, arguing that the military should have remained in the desert to block terrorist groups from entering the cities.
“The issue takes time and political efforts [to resolve] before considering any other military measures which will definitely have consequences that will add a new crisis to the ones we already suffer,” he said.
On the ground, the situation in Fallujah seems to be out of Maliki’s control, with the city being completely cut out from the central government of Baghdad.
Commenting on the situation in the city, tribal leader Mahmud Al-Shukr told Asharq Al-Awsat that the “situation inside the city seems to be almost normal, but there is no manifestation of the state at all.”
“There are those who call themselves tribal rebels protecting the city and running the daily affairs, with no policemen in the streets,” he said.
Shukr said there is “random shelling from time to time on the outskirts of the city leading people to continue leaving . . . for fear of the situation reaching the extent of a military intervention in the future.”
In a visit to Baghdad earlier this month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the Iraqi prime minister to use dialogue to resolve the fighting in the embattled province, but Maliki said there could be no negotiations with insurgents linked to Al-Qaeda. In one of his weekly televised speeches earlier this month, he warned that any Anbar residents sheltering terrorists would be targeted by the country’s armed forces.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, chairman of the Anbar Salvation Council, Hamid Al-Hayis, denied the insurgents were locals: “There is no such a thing as tribal rebels in Fallujah, only terrorists, whether from ISIS or other groups.”
“Any masked gunman terrorizing people, setting fire and kidnapping people is a terrorist and an outlaw,” Hayis added.
Hayis spoke of “negotiations being held with Fallujah tribal sheikhs and notables in a bid to evict [terrorists] from the city,” ruling out any potential military intervention by the government for the time being.