Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Iraqi military operation against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has entered its second phase, with the country’s military chasing down Al-Qaeda-linked militants in Anbar province and other desert areas, an Iraqi military source told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the official told Asharq Al-Awsat on Thursday that the military offensive was underway and that government troops were targeting ISIS militants in the strategically significant province that has extensive borders with Samarra and Baghdad.
Anbar tribal sheikhs have announced their support of the operation in the mountainous area which has long been a key hotbed of Al-Qaeda militants.
For his part, the Emir of the Dulaim tribes Majid Al-Ali Al-Suleiman told Asharq Al-Awsat that “these operations are supported by our tribes which have suffered from terrorists with whom they fought and ousted from the entire Anbar province in 2007.”
Al-Qaeda’s return has become a source of embarrassment to the Iraqi government and represents a challenge for all sides in Iraq.
“Due to the developments taking place in Syria, Al-Qaeda militants in Iraq and Syria started to coordinate,” he added.
According to Suleiman, such developments have emboldened the terrorist organization and encouraged its members who have found in the border zones between the two countries a safe haven to unite.
“We have warned of this and have called for the military to assume its role by leaving the cities and heading to the desert areas which represent hotbeds of armed groups,” he said.
“Anbar tribes support and bless these efforts,” he said, adding that the tribes were “against terrorism and militias,” and calling upon the government to fight them because “they are two sides of the same coin.”
“The country cannot achieve stability unless everybody is under the rule of law,” he said, adding that “our tribes which have defended the security and unity of Iraq in the most unfavorable circumstances are today against anyone who thinks that Iraqi blood is cheap and threatens the security and the unity of Iraq,” which he said was “a red line.”
When asked about the issue of anti-government sit-ins in Anbar and whether they pose another challenge, Suleiman said that solving the issue would not be “impossible,” as it was a domestic issue. “The only solution available to everyone is dialogue,” he added.
Suleiman urged the protestors to leave the squares and begin a “serious and responsible dialogue” with the government.
“Retreating from the square and dismantling the tents will refute all accusations of the sit-in being a shelter for terrorists,” he said, adding that “if there were terrorists fortified in the square, they would be exposed and thus the process of meeting the legitimate demands becomes a fait accompli.”
In a speech on Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki announced that he would not negotiate with anyone as long as sit-ins continued.