Former Iraqi interim prime minister and head of Iraqya political bloc Iyad Allawi on Monday blasted current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as leading Iraq to “disaster” with “exclusionary” policies against the country’s Muslim Sunni population.
Maliki’s has been battling Sunni tribes and al-Qaeda militants in the province of Anbar for days. Tension in Anbar began on Dec. 28 when Iraqi security forces arrested a Sunni lawmaker sought on terrorism charges.
Two days later, the government dismantled a months-old, anti-government Sunni protest camp, sparking clashes with militants.
Allawi demanded Maliki to answer tribal demands in Falluja and Ramadi and stop the military campaign against them.
“Maliki’s forces should target al-Qaeda militants, not tribes,” Allawi said in an interview with Al Arabiya News Channel.
He said: “All Iraqis, except terrorists, should be part of the political process.”
Allawi urged independent cabinet members to resign if Maliki continues his “onslaught on Arab tribes” in Anbar.
But Iraq’s military spokesman General Mohammad al-Askari denied the government forces afre targeting tribes in Falluja.
“Al-Qaeda is in control of Falluja, and appointed a government there. The so-called tribal forces do not exist in Falluja. There is no police and no order there other than those of al-Qaeda.”
Maliki has urged residents and tribes of Fallujah to “expel” al-Qaeda militants from the Sunni-dominated city to avoid an all-out battle.
His message came as dozens of families fled Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, in fear of a major showdown.
Iraqi government troops have surrounded the city, which was overrun by al-Qaeda fighters last week.
Maliki did not say how he expects Fallujah residents and pro-government tribesmen to push the militants out. In his message, broadcast over state TV, al-Maliki also urged Iraqi troops to avoid targeting residential areas in the city, which lies in the western Anbar province.
Members of the al-Qaeda linked group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, which also has gained influence battling government forces in neighboring Syria, also took control of most parts of the provincial capital of Ramadi last week.
Iraqi troops have been trying to dislodge the militants from the two cities. On Sunday, fighting between government forces and militants as well as allied tribesmen in Anbar killed at least 34 people, including 22 soldiers, 10 civilians and an unknown number of militants.
The recent gains by al-Qaeda have been a blow to Iraq’s Shiite-led government, as sectarian violence has escalated since the U.S. withdrawal. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that Washington was “very, very concerned” by the fighting but would not send in American troops.
The Iranian army’s deputy chief-of-staff, Gen. Mohammad Hejazi, said Monday that Iran was also ready to help Iraq with military equipment and advisers, should Baghdad ask for it. Any Iranian help would exacerbate tensions as Iraqi Sunnis accuse Tehran of backing what they say are their Shiite-led government’s unfair policies against them.
Fallujah residents said clashes continued into early Monday along the main highway that links the capital, Baghdad, to neighboring Syria and Jordan.
Al-Qaeda fighters and their supporters maintained control of the city center, flooding the streets and surrounding government buildings. Al-Qaeda black flags have been seen on government and police vehicles captured by the militants during the clashes.
Sporadic clashes erupted in some parts of Ramadi on Monday, residents there said. All residents in Anbar that talked to The Associated Press spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their own safety.
Dozens of families fled the two cities to nearby towns, crammed in cars loaded with their belongings.
Fighters from a pro-government Sunni militia killed six militants in a firefight outside Fallujah on Monday, a police officer said.
Lt. Gen. Rasheed Fleih, who leads the Iraqi army’s Anbar Military Command, told state TV that “two to three days” are needed to push the militants out of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi.
(With AP)SHOW MORE