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Signs Of Iraqi Fragmentation Emerge At Paris Conference

Signs that Iraq's ethnic and religious divisions continue to undermine the battered nation's war against the Islamic State emerged at a Paris conference June 2 despite a concerted effort to display a unified front.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, a moderate Shi'ite, was under the gun from western allies to show he can hold the fragmented nation together and form a diverse army uniting the nation's Sunni Muslim tribes, Kurdish peshmerga forces, and Shi'ite Muslim militias to wage a counteroffensive aimed at retaking Ramadi from the militant group.

Abadi insisted that his troops are united and "prepared to fight." He laid the blame for the government's loss of Ramadi to inadequate support from the United States and other members of a 20-nation coalition that has pummelled IS with more than 4,000 air strikes in the past nine months.

"There is a lot of talk of support for Iraq, there is very little on the ground," he said. "We can make sacrifices to fight Islamic State but the international coalition has to support us."

"Armament and ammunition, we haven't seen much. Almost none. We're relying on ourselves, but fighting is very hard this way," he said, noting that he was awaiting United Nations approval to buy weapons from Iran and Russia.

"The air campaign is useful for us, but it's not enough. It's too little. Surveillance is very small. Daesh is mobile and moves in small groups," said Abadi.

But even as he spoke, signs emerged that his own shaky coalition is barely holding together.

Iraq's northern autonomous Kurdistan region criticized Baghdad for "excluding" it from the one-day Paris conference, saying the snub demeaned the sacrifices of its peshmerga forces, which have fought successfully to liberate parts of northern Iraq from the Islamic State.

Moreover, Abadi's move to call in powerful Shi'ite paramilitary groups to bolster the government's manpower for waging a counteroffensive has had the unintended side effect of alienating many of the Sunni citizens the troops are supposed to be liberating from the IS.

In an ominous sign at the Paris conference, a meeting of Sunni tribes was cancelled. Sheikh Jamal al-Dhari, a leader of the prominent al-Zoba tribe, told Reuters that Abadi could not deliver on his promises to the international coalition because he is a puppet of Iran.

"We need real reconciliation that will see the Iraqi people find a political solution to what is going on, then the Sunnis will get rid of Daesh," Dhari said.

"But we will not get rid of Daesh to replace it with Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad," he said, referring to the commander of the Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

The Iranian commander has become a familiar sight on the Shi'ite side of Iraq's battlefields.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP

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