Iraqi rebels push for Baghdad: spokesman

Militants and local armed clans take control of strategic northern enclave

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Iraqi tribal forces and Islamist militants have begun their push for the capital Baghdad, a tribal rebel spokesman told Al Arabiya News on Monday, amid reports of clashes near Baghdad’s international airport.

Abu Abd al-Nuaimi said the decision to launch assault on Baghdad was taken during a meeting by tribal rebel military commanders. He said the meeting was held on the outskirts of Baghdad, without indicating exactly where.

Nuaimi said: “Districts and provinces like Salah al-Din, al-Huwaija, al-Rashad, Diyala are all under the control of tribal rebels, except the city of Baaqouba where the clashes are still raging.”

Sheikh Ali Hatem al-Suleiman Al-Dulaimi, of the Dulaim tribe, one of the largest Arab tribes, told Al Arabiya that al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) constitutes a “small 5 to 7 percent of the rebels fighting Maliki’s forces.”

“Tribal forces are capable of eliminating terrorists if Maliki withdraws his forces,” Sheikh Hatem said. “We’ve done it before and we can do it again.”

Watch the full interview with Sheikh Ali Hatem here

A tribal coalition force known as the Awakening Councils, was in 2005 credited with a significant reduction of violence by al-Qaeda militants in Iraq’s Sunni heartland. The force – then funded by the U.S. authorities in Iraq, was disbanded by the Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki after he came to power in 2006.

In the north of the country, militants and local armed clans gained ground on Monday in a battle for a strategic Shiite enclave that provides a corridor to Syria, officials and residents said.

Multiple officials and a resident said militants had entered Tal Afar, a Shiite Turkman-majority town in Nineveh province, with one saying they were in control.

“Armed groups managed to take control of Tal Afar,” a Nineveh provincial government official told Agence France-Presse, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“They clashed with security forces and (tribal fighters), who had to withdraw from the town.”

But security forces insisted they had repelled the assault on the major Shiite-majority town.

The town has provided a crucial bulwark against militant-controlled territory on either side of Iraq's border with Syria.

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