Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has pledged to allocate money for construction in the mostly Sunni province of Anbar, in a rare overture to placate to a minority that accuses his Shia-led government of marginalising them.
While his central government’s troops fight al-Qaeda-inspired armed groups who have taken over areas in Anbar and other swaths north of the country, al-Maliki made his promises during a visit to an army base west of Ramadi on Saturday, Anbar’s provincial capital.
Maliki promised over $83 million in construction funds and 10,000 jobs in the security forces for tribal fighters who have sided with the government against Al-Qaeda-affliliated the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL), the officials said, according to Reuters.
It was the first time Maliki is known to have travelled to Anbar since armed fighters and anti-government tribesmen seized parts of Ramadi and all of nearby Fallujah at the start of the year, in a major setback for his government.
The prime minister’s spokesman, Ali Mussawi, told AFP he met with provincial officials and leaders of powerful local tribes to discuss army operations.
“We came to confirm our support to our people and our tribes in Anbar,” Mussawi quoted Maliki as saying.
Earlier this week, Maliki said tribesmen who fight on the side of the government would be incorporated into the Anbar police, but it was not immediately clear how the new promise fits into that plan.
The takeovers in Anbar are the first time anti-government forces have exercised such open control in major cities since the bloody insurgency that followed the US-led invasion of 2003.
More than 370,000 people may have been displaced by Anbar violence, according to the UN.
The prospects of a quick resolution to the crisis seem slim, with Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani saying the strategy for retaking Fallujah is to surround it and wait for Sunni Arab gunmen to run short of weapons and equipment.
Battles in the north
Authorities also face a small-scale version of the Anbar crisis in northern Iraq, where fighters took control of part of the town of Sulaiman Bek and nearby areas in Salaheddin province on Thursday.
Local official Talib al-Bayati told AFP security forces had succeeded in recapturing some areas on Friday, but then withdrew for unknown reasons.
On Saturday, gunmen were in control of the town’s Al-Askari neighbourhood, he said.
Sulaiman Bek has been hit by numerous attacks over the past year, and was briefly seized by fighters in late April.
In July, 150 fighters struck with mortar rounds, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons, and executed 14 Shia truck drivers on a nearby highway.
Meanwhile, 26 soldiers and police have been killed in targeted attacks and clashes over the past two days, mainly in Salaheddin, officials and doctors told AFP.
The often poorly trained and disciplined security forces are the target of near-daily attacks by fighters.
Violence in Iraq has reached a level not seen since 2008, when the country was just emerging from a period of brutal sectarian killings.
Foreign leaders have urged the Shiite-led government to do more to reach out to the disaffected Sunni Arab minority to undercut support for fighters.
But Maliki has taken a hard line ahead of a general election scheduled for April.