A delegation from Iraq’s beleaguered Anbar province was set to meet in Baghdad on January 12 to discuss the ongoing and increasing crisis as the Islamic State (IS) group continues to push to advance into the provincial capital Ramadi and as the humanitarian situation in the province worsens.
The council was also expected to discuss the proposed delegation from Anbar to Washington, which is expected to ask the United States for increased support to Iraqi security forces and tribal fighters in the battle to liberate the province from IS.
Iraqi media reported that the Anbar council will meet with the Iraqi Council of Representatives in Baghdad to discuss the priorities of the delegation.
Islamic State militants have seized vast swaths of land in Iraq and control most of the cities and towns of Anbar, including Fallujah.
The Iraqi central government has said that liberating Anbar from IS's control is a priority. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told a delegation from Anbar on January 10 that ousting IS from the province would be "an important gateway for the liberation of the rest of Iraq."
However, the central government has come under a great deal of criticism -- particularly from Anbar's tribal fighters, who have complained that they have not been given nearly enough support in terms of weapons, ammunition, and air support to enable them to successfully combat IS gunmen.
Sunni tribes in Anbar are continuing to fight against IS militants and local leaders in Anbar have called on the tribal fighters to continue fighting. On January 6, Anbar Governor Suhaib al-Rawi called on tribal forces to continue to help liberate Iraq from IS, which he called a "foreign enemy," according to pan-Arab outlet Asharq Alawsat. However, tribal leaders have repeatedly warned that they lack the requisite arms and ammunition to be able to adequately counter the extremists. Prominent Anbar tribal leader Ahmed Abu Risha has himself said that his forces are only lightly armed, and warned in October that "if Ramadi falls, all of Anbar falls."
On January 10, a delegation from Anbar, led by Abu Risha, met with Iraqi House Speaker Salim al-Jubouri, who stressed the importance of speeding up support in the form of weapons and ammunition to tribal fighters and the Iraqi police force in Anbar, according to the National Iraqi News Agency.
In recent days, some Iraqi outlets have expressed fresh criticism of the Iraqi central government regarding the level of support provided to Anbar security and tribal forces in the battle against Islamic State. The Sotal Iraq website reported on January 11 that the Anbar delegation hoped that the United States would put pressure on the Iraqi government to arm tribal fighters in the province.
According to Sotal Iraq, the Sunni tribal forces have warned that they would not hesitate to request arms from any country, "even Iran." That warning is not the first time that Iraqi sources have suggested that the tribal fighters in Anbar could seek arms from Tehran. In December, Iraqi lawmaker Faris Taha of the Al-Wafa bloc warned that some tribes had sought arms from Iran and called on Baghdad to avert such a move by supporting the tribal fighters directly.
Meanwhile, clashes between IS militants and Iraqi forces continued on January 11, with the Sunni extremists maintaining their assaults on the provincial capital, Ramadi. An RFE/RL correspondent in Iraq reported on January 11 that there were ongoing battles between IS militants and Iraqi forces in the southern part of the city, although Iraqi security forces said they have killed 17 IS militants over the past several days.
The Haditha municipality also said that Iraqi security forces and tribal fighters had killed five IS gunmen in a successful ambushed in Birwana in western Anbar, while U.S.-led air strikes killed at least 23 militants, the RFE/RL correspondent reported.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk