Iraq PM warns of "long war" against Al Qaeda
The Iraqi army is struggling to get large swathes of the restive Anbar province back under governmental control. Al Qaeda-affiliated militants have overrun major cities, such as Fallujah and Ramadi. (AFP)
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The war on Al Qaeda and its affiliates will be long, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki said during his weekly address on Wednesday, vowing that it will only end in “victory.”
“The Iraqi army and tribesmen are defending the Iraqi people and their holly places, mosques, churches and honor when battling terrorism,” Maliki said, adding “that the war [against terrorism] will be long and will continue.”
He said that the “battle will end in victory,” describing those battling Al Qaeda-linked group as “martyrs.”
The premier also urged the international community to stand against countries that are supporting terrorism, saying that Iraq is “fighting to defend the world, humanity and justice.”
He said battling these Al Qaeda groups are not enough, instead he called for countries to “end these groups’ political, social, and financial support.”
The Al Qaeda affiliate group known as the State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), emboldened by successes in the civil war raging in Syria, made a push to seize parts of the mainly Sunni Anbar province in Western Iraq.
Violence in the province also erupted after the government arrested a Sunni lawmaker sought on terrorism charges on Dec. 28, and then dismantled an anti-government Sunni protest camp in the provincial Ramadi.
People in Anbar, who claim that the Iraqi army is “sectarian,” expressed their disdain if Iraqi army intervened, compelling the government to minimally interfere and mainly depend on tribesmen to quell ISIS.
Maliki also urged tribal allies in Anbar to continue fighting on the government’s side, adding that “the tribesmen should take a firm stance in order to expel the terrorists from their areas so that peace would prevail there.”
The Associated Press reported that the Iraqi army on Wednesday seized control of a town near Fallujah in Anbar in a rare victory for government forces battling ISIS.
The army airstrikes pounded the town and commandos swept in Wednesday to clear the area, the Associated Press reported senior military officials as saying after struggling for nearly three weeks to regain control of the mainly Sunni area west of Baghdad.
However, Agence France-Presse reported that Iraqi forces have lost more ground in crisis-hit Anbar on Wednesday as Sunni gunmen, including ISIS fighters, overran two key areas when police abandoned their posts, officials said.
The losses mark a second day of setbacks for Baghdad as it seeks to retake territory on the capital’s doorstep from militants, who hold all of the former insurgent bastion of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi.
The latest unrest comes amid a deadly, weeks-long crisis in the province, a mostly desert region in western Iraq bordering conflict-ravaged Syria, ahead of national parliamentary polls on April 30.
Diplomats, including U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, have urged Baghdad to pursue political reconciliation to resolve the standoff and a protracted surge in nationwide violence, but Maliki has ruled out dialogue with militants.