Obama meets Iraqi speaker on tribal integration

Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki says it is time to clear al-Qaeda-linked militants from Anbar but sets no date for an army assault

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U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday discussed the need to integrate Sunni tribal leaders and troops into the Iraqi army with the Sunni speaker of Iraq’s parliament Osama al-Nujaifi.

“The President encouraged Iraq’s leaders to continue dialogue to address the legitimate grievances of all communities through the political process,” Agence France-Presse quoted the White House as saying in a statement.

The statement came after Obama dropped by the scheduled meeting with Nujaifi, Iraqi parliamentarians and Vice President Joe Biden.

The White House seeks to help Iraq quell an al-Qaeda upsurge in key western cities in the Sunni-stronghold province of Anbar.

“Both sides agreed on the need for both security and political measures to combat terrorism, and discussed efforts to formally integrate local and tribal forces into the state security structures consistent with the Government of Iraq’s public commitments in recent days,” the statement read.

It added: “President Obama and Vice President Biden also expressed the United States’ strong support for continued cooperation between local and tribal leaders and the Iraqi Government against al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).’”

On Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Maliki also called for residents of Anbar to “take a stand” against anti-government fighters, as air strikes were said to have killed 50 militants.

“The time has come to settle this issue and end the presence of this gang in this city and save its people from their evil,” Reuters quoted Maliki as saying in his weekly televised address to the nation.

He also urged the people of Fallujah to “to take crucial positions on the presence of those dirty people without losses and without sacrifices.”

“Those criminals are seeking to ignite sectarian strife and to end up with the division of Iraq,” he added.

Three hours later, helicopter gunships bombarded eastern and northern districts of Fallujah, residents said. It was not clear if that was the prelude to wider military action as Maliki didn’t set a deadline for any army assault. Helicopters have been in action before on the outskirts of the city.

Meanwhile, officials in Washington have said privately in recent days that they believe the threat from extremists in Iraqi cities like Fallujah has prompted Maliki to take fresh steps to engage Sunni tribes in the area.

Washington effectively wants Maliki to adopt a similar tactic of wooing Sunni tribes to fight extremists as was pursued in the successful U.S. troop surge strategy against al-Qaeda.

On Tuesday, Iraqi air force strikes killed more than 50 militants of various Arab nationalities and destroyed large amounts of ammunition in the western province of Anbar, a Defense Ministry statement said. It did not say exactly where the raids on “gatherings of terrorist groups” took place.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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