London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Tribal leaders in northern Iraq said they were forming militias to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on Sunday, as reports emerged of the jihadist group seizing more territory southwest of Baghdad.
The Al-Obeidi tribe, which spans the two provinces of Salah Al-Din and Kirkuk, will put together an armed group to “repel the terrorists,” Wasfi Al-Asi, the leader of the tribe, said in a news conference in Baghdad on Sunday.
“A large number of the honorable people of Iraq and its zealous sons showed readiness to join this formation, whose doors will be wide open for everyone who seems themselves capable of defending Iraq,” Asi added.
The Al-Jabouri tribe in Salah Al-Din is said to have already created an armed organization for the same purpose, days after local residents in the northern city of Mosul formed their own anti-ISIS militias.
Last week, the jihadist organization destroyed tombs in Mosul, including that of the Prophet Jonah, and since it captured the city at the beginning of June has forced out thousands of the city’s Christians.
However, despite claims that they are preparing to take on ISIS, tribal leaders say they remain opposed to the central government in Baghdad, led by Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki.
Sheikh Monef Al-Obeidi told Asharq Al-Awsat he blamed Maliki for both the uprising that has allowed ISIS to seize swaths of Iraqi territory and the failure of the army to get to grips with the crisis.
“ISIS and the other terrorist organizations would not have been able to enter and occupy large parts of the country if the government had taken seriously the legitimate demands of the western governorates which protested against injustice, exclusion and marginalization,” he said.
“Part of the reason is also the absence of professional, well-trained armed forces with a patriotic [military] doctrine. The battles have clearly pointed this out,” he added.
Obeidi said that “the tribes are also kick-starting the uprising against ISIS because the government is unable to protect these areas,” dismissing as “untrue” accusations by the government that ISIS had recruited from residents in the area.
“It should not be the case that all the focus is put on ISIS, while those demanding legitimate rights are ignored,” he added.
Meanwhile, the authorities in Babil province admitted that the Jurf Al-Sakhar district, which lies almost 40 miles (60 kilometers) southwest of Baghdad, had fallen into the hands of ISIS fighters.
Babil governor Sadiq Madloul Al-Sultani said in a statement on Sunday that “joint forces are preparing to launch a military campaign to purge the Jurf Al-Sakhar district,” vowing that they “will hit with an iron fist all the terrorist attempts through which ISIS can re-send supplies to its remaining sleeper cells.”
An Iraqi security official, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on condition of anonymity, said: “The Jurf Al-Sakhar district is considered a significant starting point for ISIS at the propaganda and strategic levels.”
“At the propaganda level, this organization wants to show the world it is able to open more than one fighting front at once. It also wants to send messages across to its supporters that it is present in more than one place,” he said.
The source added that ISIS was also attempting to close in on Baghdad from two directions, including Jurf Al-Sakhar and other districts to the capital’s southeast.