AMMAN (Reuters) - Sunni insurgents and tribal leaders said on Wednesday after a closed meeting they would keep fighting until they take over the Iraqi capital and bring down a U.S. imposed political order that brought Shi‘ites to rule the country and marginalised them.
Several hundred tribal figures, representatives of Islamist insurgent groups, ex-army officers and former Baath party figures attended the meeting in the Jordanian capital.
Sunni cleric Abdul Malik Al-Saadi, who praised the “mujahdeen” (holy warriors) leading the revolt, said tribes were the backbone of a broad based insurgency battling against Iraqi Shi‘ite Islamist Prime Minister Nuri Maliki’s rule. He said these forces had now captured large parts of western and northern Iraq.
The Islamic State, the Al Qaeda offshoot, is only a part of the uprising, the Sunni’s top religious figure said.
“This revolution is led by the sons of tribes who are leading it and the Islamic State is a small part of it,” said Al-Saadi, who led some of the mass peaceful protests in Iraq’s Sunni heartland in 2013 that called for an end to security abuses and perceived marginalisation and political exclusion.
Most Sunni figures said they were left with few alternatives but to fight Maliki who is now relying increasingly on Shiite militias such as Asaib Ahl Al-Haq they say are funded and armed by Iran in his battle against the rebellious governorates.
“We are now in a state of continued Jihad to end the remnants of the U.S. occupation and restore the rights of the Iraqi people,” said Abd al-Naser Al Janaby, a prominent Salafi cleric and politician and a leading supporter of the armed uprising. “We expect a new dawn for Iraq from this revolution.”
Pro-government papers close to Maliki have attacked the Amman meeting, saying some of the participants are politicians accused of terrorism charges.
In 2007 Maliki accused Janaby of kidnapping and killing dozens of Shi‘ites and is currently deputy head of the “Front for Jihad, Liberation and Natioanal Salvation in Iraq”.
Ahmad Dabash, an insurgent leader and a founder of the Islamic Army, one of the several groups that have fueled the insurgency, said the participants shared a common opposition to the partition of Iraq on ethnic or sectarian grounds.
The conference held under Jordanian auspices is the largest such event organized by Iraqi Sunni leaders since militant fighters led by the Islamic State seized wide swathes of the north and west of the country last month in lightning advances.
A final statement, which described the situation in Iraq as worsening, urged the international community to support the aims of the rebels to save “Iraq and the region from an unknown future.”
The conference which excluded Maliki’s few Sunni allies within the government said they would fight any attempt to revive government-backed Sunni militias known as the Sahwat (Awakening) that had succeeded with U.S. support in repelling and defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Sahwat is a pejorative term among jihadists, who believe that the Americans pitted Sunnis against each other in Iraq, only to betray them later by handing power to a Shi‘ite government.
Crucially, Islamic State fighters have now received support from Sunni tribes who once fought bitterly against them, a sign of widespread Sunni alienation from Baghdad since the end of U.S. occupation.
“We are not ready to repeat that experience. The Islamic State has not humiliated us and if it had not been for them we would not be here today raising our heads high,” said Sheikh Qasem Obeidi, a tribal leader sympathetic to the Islamic State.
Another tribal leader said the eyes of insurgents were now focused on reaching the capital Baghdad.
“We will take over Baghdad and bring down the political regime in Baghdad in the coming weeks, God willing,” said Sheikh Fayez Al-Shawoosh, spokesman for the insurgent led council of Iraqi tribal chiefs.
Representatives of the loose federation of Sunni armed groups and tribal fighters under the umbrella of Military Councils said they were not ready to fight the Islamic State many of whose leaders were drawn from Iraq’s top tribes.
They blame Maliki’s Shi‘ite led militias for the death, imprisonment and disappearance of thousands of Sunnis.
Ex-army officers and loyalists of executed former dictator Saddam Hussein’s Baath party went as far as saying they shared with the Al Qaeda offshoot common military goals even though they were ideologically wide apart.
“Now the Islamic State is fighting and has scored victories and helped revolutionaries in achieving their goals so we are almost in harmony with them in achieving our goals,” senior Baath leader Abdul Samed al Ghurairi who attended the parley told Reuters.
Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; editing by Andrew Hay