A vague report about the formation of a new military force in Iraq that is loyal to parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi has sparked fierce debate among Sunnis in the country.
The report, which was widely circulated on social media, said the "Desert Phantoms" was formed of Iraqis from the western provinces. They have been trained by American forces and were carefully selected based on their political loyalty to Halbousi's Taqaddum coalition.
The report claimed the force has been tasked with protecting the headquarters of Sunni parties and blocs in Baghdad from attacks that they have recently come under. The force is seeking to deploy in Baghdad to protect party and political headquarters.
Halbousi slammed the report, tweeting that people will "no longer fall for the policy of intimidation, led by a handful of mercenaries, that is aimed at stirring unrest and spreading rumors."
A source close to the speaker suspected that armed factions were behind the report.
The report is part of systematic attempts to spread panic in the country, he told local media on Sunday.
"The Desert Phantoms are a fabrication aimed at deceiving naive people and leading them to believe that a sectarian group of thugs is deployed in the desert. This is ridiculous," he added.
He did, however, express his concern over the hidden intentions behind the spread of such rumors. He suspected that armed groups "active outside the authority of the state" would exploit the situation to "spark terror among the people of Iraq to cover for their suspicious plots."
Head of the Sahwat al-Iraq, Ahmad Abu Risha said the report is aimed at excluding the Taqaddum coalition from the new government.
"The Desert Phantoms is the latest lie to target the destroyed provinces," he tweeted, in reference to the provinces of al-Anbar, Salaheddine and Nineveh that were occupied by the ISIS terrorist group.
"The lie has been used for petty political goals and interests with the aim of intimidating entire blocs from taking part in the new national majority government," he added.
"Those with ill intentions must know that we do not believe in the state of militias and gangs, but we believe in a state that is ruled by justice and is protected by its brave army," he stressed.
The recently formed alliance between Moqtada al-Sadr, Halbousi and Masoud Barzani to form the national majority government did not sit well with the Coordination Framework, which is mainly comprised of pro-Iran factions.
The Framework is seeking to obstruct government formation efforts in an attempt to revert to the old way of forming cabinets through various alliances.
The pro-Iran factions had emerged as the major losers in the October parliamentary elections, which they have dismissed as a sham.