Prominent Iraqi Sunni cleric Abdel Malik Al-Saadi called on Saturday for Iraqis to resist Baghdad’s attempts to retake the city of Fallujah, branding the government’s efforts “sectarian genocide.”
Sheikh Abdel Malik Al-Saadi (Asharq Al-Awsat)
In a statement, Saadi said: “What Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki is doing now is genocide, destruction and pillaging in Fallujah and Ramadi, and what the militias are doing in Diyala and Jarf Al-Sakhr is evidence that it is sectarian genocide, directed by Iran, and agreed on and supported by America.”
He added: “The aim is not to fight terrorism or what they call the Islamic State if Iraq and Syria (ISIS), because their presence does not require this level of violence and comprehensive genocide.”
Saadi is one of the most prominent Sunni clerics in Iraq, and a major backer of the anti-government protests that gripped Anbar at the end of 2013. He is also a noted critic of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, though in the early stages of the Anbar protests he also led calls for dialogue with Baghdad.
In his statement, Saadi called on residents of Fallujah to resist the Iraqi security forces’ attempts to retake the city, to “defend themselves and help those defending them with money and weapons.”
“Stand firm and be patient, for victory is with the patient,” he said. “Whatever you do, do not attack those who are unarmed, whether they are from the army, the police, or otherwise.”
He added: “Maliki has insulted you everywhere . . . It is your duty according to the Shari’a to help those who are struggling [to defend you] and drive them to victory. Anyone who can fight or help, but willingly does not, is a sinner for ignoring one of his duties according to the Shari’a.”
Saadi’s statements followed an announcement from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense that it was ready to begin a major push to “liberate” the city of Fallujah from insurgents, including members of ISIS.
Militants expelled government forces from the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi and some other areas of Iraq’s western province of Anbar at the beginning of January, following over a year of rising political and sectarian tensions between the local Sunni population of the province and the Shi’ite-led government of Prime Minister Al-Maliki.
Although government forces claim to have retaken Ramadi, fighting has continued elsewhere in the province. Government forces and allied tribal militias have struggled to retake Fallujah after surrounding the city amid reports of heavy casualties, logistical problems, and low morale among government troops.
On Saturday the Iraqi military issued a statement which said: “The army air corps has bombarded a number of areas in Fallujah including the Askari [district] and industrial areas, and they achieved clear progress in those areas, cornered the armed men and killed many of them.”
Commander of Land Forces Gen. Ali Ghaidan said in a statement issued on Friday that the Iraqi security forces had made progress in clearing ISIS fighters out of territory between the capital and Fallujah, just over 40 miles (almost 65 kilometers) to the west.
He said: “Land Forces launched extensive operations aimed at expelling ISIS from the areas adjacent to Baghdad, and launched a number of attacks in the Ameriyah area of Fallujah . . . The initial operations were successful and all areas surrounding the Ameriyah area of Fallujah are under control.”
Ghaidan added: “Controlling such a vital and important area which overlooked the eastern part of Fallujah was very important . . . Further plans are in place to complete the job and take control of other areas of Fallujah.”
Meanwhile, local clerics and tribal leaders expressed worries about the Iraqi security forces’ ongoing operations, warning that they risked derailing attempts to negotiate a peaceful end to the crisis between the central government and insurgents not linked to ISIS.
Sheikh Hamid Al-Kartani, a Fallujah dignitary, told Asharq Al-Awsat he had reservations about the operation because “it contradicted all announcements about the possibility of a peaceful resolution of the crisis between the government on one side, and the tribal revolutionaries and the Military Council on the other, in order to expel ISIS.”
He added: “This military operation gives an excuse to those who do not want reconciliation to say the government is not serious about its promises and that therefore it should slow down and wait for the outcome of the current negotiations in Amman and Erbil.”
Sheikh Ghassan Aithawi, a cleric from Anbar, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The ongoing talks are between the tribal revolutionaries and members of the [Fallujah] Military Council and the government, not ISIS, because ISIS does not believe in conciliation or negotiations, and therefore, the military operation is aimed at ISIS, who have wreaked havoc in the area in the last few months.”
Aithawi added: “The problem is that there is misleading information given to the politicians and clerics, which leads to confusion and therefore hinders the possibility of reaching a solution . . . If nothing is achieved on the ground, ISIS insurgents will continue to hijack cities and residents, and migration and displacement will continue.”