Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is facing his biggest battle yet as a powerful insurgency seizes major Sunni-majority areas and threatens to overtake Baghdad. Photo: AFP
FALLUJAH, Iraq — Sunni Arab militants are distancing themselves from the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and say their goal is to oust Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s “failed sectarian government” from power.
Maliki, who has led a Shia-dominated government for eight years and is accused of isolating Sunni Arabs and Kurds, is facing his biggest battle yet as a powerful insurgency seizes major Sunni-majority areas and threatens to overtake Baghdad.
He has rejected calls to include Sunni Arab parties in a national unity government and is refusing to step down amid calls for his resignation. Although his bloc won the most votes in April’s election, Maliki’s future is uncertain as Iraq’s parliament is now tasked with creating a new government.
In the meantime, Sunni insurgents — believed to be a combination of Sunni extremists, foreign fighters, Iraqi Sunni tribes, Baathists and others — are gaining ground, having captured Mosul, most of the cities in Anbar province and large Sunni strongholds in Salahaddin and Diyala provinces.
“The popular revolution’s aim is to overthrow Maliki and his failed sectarian government, which has hurt the people,” said Abu Abed al-Naimi, a militant spokesman.
“Rebel tribes are making good progress and are marching toward the capital, Baghdad,” he said.
Naimi dismissed the government’s claims that the “popular revolution” aims to create “destruction and chaos.” He maintained that Iraqi groups, not the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which is known for its extremism including executing Iraqi soldiers, are leading the insurgency.
“Maliki is seeking to tarnish the image of the Iraqi revolution by exaggerating the role of ISIS at the expense of the rest of the armed groups, even though most in the revolution are the sons of the Iraqi tribes,” he said. “There’s an effort to deceive and change the facts by claiming this is terrorism, when what’s really happening in Iraq is a popular revolution against the sectarian government.”
Naimi claimed Iraqi tribal militias had taken control of the Traybil border area with Jordan, but the government said it has secured the crossing.
Ahmed al-Jubouri, a field commander for the Islamic Army, said the insurgency is made up of the Islamic Army, the Baathist-affiliated militant group Naqshbandi, rebel Sunni tribes, ISIS and other armed groups. He maintained they are united in their goal to topple Maliki’s government, which Sunni Arabs claim has isolated them for years, he said.
Jubouri told Rudaw, “Maliki slighted the Iraqi people, particularly Sunni Arabs. Thousands have been arrested and incarcerated in prisons for several years, so we don’t want this sectarian Maliki to rule us anymore.”
Haitham Walid al-Alwani, one of the leaders of the Naqshbandi militia, said, “Rebel demands have shifted since the situation on the ground changed and rebels made significant advances. We taught Maliki's forces a lesson they’ll never forget, even forcing (US President Barack) Obama to criticize the Iraqi government’s policies.”
Obama has called on Maliki to be inclusive of Sunni Arabs, Kurds and other opposition groups. After a visit to Baghdad last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Maliki is "committed to moving forward with the constitutional processes of government formation, and that is precisely what the United States was encouraging. He also called on all Iraqis to put aside their differences, to unite in their efforts against terrorism."
Alwani said Sunni Arabs want a national unity government representing all of Iraq’s major factions and ethnic groups, new elections in six months and the disbanding of Shia militias.
“The revolution won’t budge an inch until it achieves all its goals,” he said. “Iraqis have begun to feel it and see it. In Tikrit, Kirkuk and some cities in Anbar, the people are proud of the security and dignity that’s been restored.”
Ammar al-Dulaimi, a professor at the University of Anbar, echoed the claim of many Iraqi Sunni militia leaders who say theirs is a patriotic insurgency that isn’t led by foreign ISIS fighters “who couldn’t capture and control large regions and several cities so quickly.” Dulaimi noted that while the Iraqi army appears weak and is abandoning their posts in Sunni Arab areas, “armed groups are hell-bent on achieving their goals.”