Iraq launches Sunni anti-ISIS force in Anbar
More than 1,000 Sunni fighters from Anbar joined Iraq's Popular Mobilization force Friday
More than 1,000 Sunni fighters from Anbar joined Iraq's Popular Mobilization force Friday as part of government efforts to make the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria group a cross-sectarian drive.
Political, security and tribal leaders attended a large parade at a base in Amriyat al-Fallujah in a bid to give new momentum to the province's homegrown anti-ISIS fightback.
"Your country has been stolen by a bunch of thieves and thugs and you must fight to take it back," Anbar Governor Soheib al-Rawi said at the event.
"Let this day be the day when we declare a massive revolution against Daesh... kick Daesh out of our homes, fight their extremist ideology and tighten the noose around them," he said, using an Arab acronym for IS.
Parts of Anbar province have been under jihadist control since before the nationwide June 9 offensive by IS, and the capital Ramadi has been on the brink of falling completely for months.
The counter-offensive has so far been spearheaded by Shiite militias, some of which are now operating under a government-controlled umbrella known as the Hashed al-Shaabi -- or Popular Mobilization Brigades.
However, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has been keen to deflect criticism of the organization as a Shiite-only body, and has defied challenges within his own camp to push for the inclusion of Sunni fighters in their home provinces.
Hundreds of Sunni tribal fighters had already been fighting under the Popular Mobilization banner in Anbar in recent weeks, but Friday marked their official recruitment.
Sunni fighters in the troubled western Iraqi province had so far been using their own weapons and not receiving payment.
The new system comes with an organized vetting process designed to avoid the lack of accountability that prevailed under previous attempts to enlist Sunni fighters in recent years.
Rawi said that, according to Abadi's executive order, the plan was for the Sunni force with the Popular Mobilization units in Anbar to reach 6,000 men.