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Effort to arm Sunni tribes in Iraq against Islamic State faces hurdles

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source :The Washington Post

 By Loveday Morris
ERBIL — The mass killings of Sunni tribesmen battling the Islamic State have added urgency to Iraqi government efforts to support pockets of resistance against the insurgents. But distrust, a lack of financing and corruption threaten to slow the process, tribesmen and officials say.

In a flurry of meetings in recent weeks, tribal leaders have demanded Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi address problems of missing weapons and lack of support as they hold out against extremist militants in the face of mass detentions and executions. Hundreds of tribesmen have been summarily executed in the western province of Anbar over the past month, with hundreds more rounded up north of Baghdad.

source :The Washington Post

By Loveday Morris

ERBIL — The mass killings of Sunni tribesmen battling the Islamic State have added urgency to Iraqi government efforts to support pockets of resistance against the insurgents. But distrust, a lack of financing and corruption threaten to slow the process, tribesmen and officials say.

In a flurry of meetings in recent weeks, tribal leaders have demanded Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi address problems of missing weapons and lack of support as they hold out against extremist militants in the face of mass detentions and executions. Hundreds of tribesmen have been summarily executed in the western province of Anbar over the past month, with hundreds more rounded up north of Baghdad.

The slayings have underscored the predicament of Sunni tribes that have resisted Islamic State extremists, often with little assistance from the central government. They threaten to undermine the government strategy of mobilizing the Sunni tribes against the Islamic State in their areas – a key pillar of efforts to crush the militants.

“We demand that the government does something,” said Sheikh Naim al-Gaoud, a tribal leader with the Albu Nimr. “We feel that we have been abandoned and neglected.”

The Albu Nimr tribe held out against the insurgents for 10 months before caving to them in the Western province of Anbar in late October. While many tribal fighters fled, others were rounded up and arrested – and later killed in public, tribesmen say. Albu Nimr leaders and the government put the number executed at more than 320.

Tribal leaders blame the government for failing to provide more support, along with underlying distrust and corruption stemming from the tenure of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

U.S. military leaders have said the Iraqi army lacks the capacity to come to their assistance.

Al-Gaoud said the tribe received some arms: 30 PK-C machine guns and 15,000 bullets on Jan 15., two weeks after Islamic State seized control of Anbar’s two main cities. There has been little from the Iraqi army since, he said, save an airdrop of 50,000 bullets during the summer.

“There is corruption – those that are meant to be delivering us ammunition are selling it on the black market and we instead are forced to buy it,” he said. “There are so many corrupt officers.”

Gaoud said a meeting with Abadi two weeks ago had resulted in promises, but there are concerns over whether the support will be forthcoming. “They said they have supplied so many arms to Anbar, but nothing arrives because of corruption, and they are investigating,” he said.

Abadi has been attempting to address the issue of graft in the army since taking power in September, retiring senior officers, but U.S. officials and analysts say that mismanagement runs deep.

Financing is also a problem in arming the tribes, Iraqi officials say, adding that it’s likely to deepen. The Iraqi economy, hit by tumbling oil prices, is predicted to shrink by 2.75 percent in 2014, according to the International Monetary Fund.

“We are not sure that the government will effectively be able to help them because of the shortage in financing,” said Ahmed Mahjoob, an advisor to Salim Jabouri, the Sunni speaker of parliament who has facilitated meetings between the government and tribesmen.

Despite being a linchpin in the strategy to turn back militants, efforts so far to build tribal forces are limited. In the refugee camps of Erbil, tribal sheikhs have gathered the names of willing fighters, but they complain that a lack of trust between the Shiite-led government and the tribes holds back efforts.

In Bakhira camp, a bleak tangle of tents on the edge of the Kurdish capital, young men say they are desperate to fight – anything to help free themselves and their families from the grim realities of life in the camp.

“We don’t want money. We don’t want anything — just give us weapons, and we will go,” said Faisal Obaidi, 30. “There are so many of us here who feel the same.”
Many of those who once served in Mosul’s police force have already been recruited from the refugee camps and are now gathered in a training camp on the outskirts of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan, dubbed “Mosul Liberation Camp.”

Khalid Hamdani, the former head of Mosul police who is running the camp, said there are more than 4,000 fighters there, awaiting arming and training. Some observers are dismissive of the efforts, which are overseen by Mosul’s former governor, Atheel Nujaifi.

“They have three Kalashinkovs between them,” joked Firas Qusai, a 25-year-old from Mosul at Bakhira camp, who has friends who have left to join the military camp.

Hamdani said the process of setting up the camp, which opened just over two weeks ago, has been slowed by red tape because officials need to negotiate with both the Kurdish and central government, whose relations are strained.

Hamdani said he hopes to receive his first supplies of equipment from Iraq’s Ministry of Interior next week.
Internal disputes have also hampered progress, officials say. Nujaifi is a divisive figure whom some partially blame for the initial collapse of Mosul in the face of militants, because he was governor at the time.

Other members of Mosul’s provincial council boycotted a recent meeting with the prime minister in Baghdad, saying they protested Nujaifi’s presence.
“Next week, we the tribes of Nineveh will hold a meeting to discuss the operation to liberate Mosul,” said Mahjoob. “All this is being done without Nujaifi.”

Sheikh Abdullah al-Yawar, a leader of the powerful Shammar tribe, said he has become one of the government’s main interlocutors. The Shammar, like other tribes, have gathered fighters in Kurdistan but are waiting for arms and training.

“The prime minister is committed that full support should be provided,” said Rafid Jaboori, a spokesman for the prime minister’s office. “The tribes are essential strategically, but it’s complicated. It’s war.”

Over the past two weeks, the Abadi government has met with at least five tribal delegations from Anbar, Mosul and Salahdin, he added.

“Until now, we haven’t really seen any support from the Kurdish or Iraqi government,” said Sheikh Khalid al-Shammari, another tribal leader. “We were asked to gather names for one battalion, 350 to 400 people…We’ve done that and submitted it weeks ago, but we’ve heard nothing.”

In the meantime, pressure is mounting. Hundreds of members of the Jabbour tribe have been rounded up in al-Alam, 100 miles north of Baghdad, accused of mounting a coup against the Islamic State there, tribal leaders said.

“It’s never too late,” said Gaoud. “But every day we have executions, every day is a bloodbath.”

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