Iraqi Sunnis say could join new government, fight Islamic State

Photo: Iraqi Sunnis say could join new government, fight Islamic State / Arab World

Tribal leaders and clerics from Iraq's Sunni heartland offered their conditional backing on Friday for a new government that hopes to contain sectarian bloodshed and an offensive by Islamic State militants that threatens to tear the country apart, Reuters reported.

One of the most influential tribal leaders said he was willing to work with Shi'ite prime minister-designate Haider al-Abadi provided a new administration respected the rights of the Sunni Muslim minority that dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

Ali Hatem Suleiman left open a possibility that Sunnis would take up arms against the Islamic State fighters in the same way as he and others joined U.S. and Shi'ite-led government forces to thwart an al Qaeda insurgency in Iraq between 2006 and 2009.

Yet amid the signs that political accords were possible in the fractious nation, some 80 members of Iraq's Yazidi minority were "massacred" by Islamic State insurgents, a Yazidi lawmaker and two Kurdish officials said on Friday.

Abadi faces the daunting task of pacifying Iraq and particularly the vast desert province of Anbar. It forms much of the border with Syria, where the Islamist fighters also control swathes of territory.

Sunni alienation under outgoing Shi'ite premier Nuri al-Maliki goaded some in Anbar to join an Islamic State revolt that is now drawing the United States and European allies back into varying degrees of military involvement in Iraq to contain what they see as a militant threat that goes well beyond its borders.

The United Nations Security Council blacklisted the Islamic State spokesman and five other militants on Friday and threatened sanctions against those backing the insurgents, giving U.N. experts 90 days to report on who those people are.

Iraq has been plunged into its worst violence since the peak of a sectarian civil war in 2006-2007, with Sunni fighters led by the Islamic State overrunning large parts of the west and north, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee for their lives and threatening ethnic Kurds in their autonomous province.

Winning over Sunnis will be vital to any efforts to contain the violence marked by daily kidnappings, execution-style killings and bombings.

Taha Mohammed al-Hamdoon, spokesman for the tribal and clerical leaders, told Reuters that Sunni representatives in Anbar and other provinces had drawn up a list of demands.

This would be delivered to Abadi, a member of the same Shi'ite Islamist party but with a less confrontational reputation than Maliki, who announced on Thursday he would stand down.

Hamdoon called for the government and Shi'ite militia forces to suspend hostilities in Anbar to allow space for talks.

"It is not possible for any negotiations to be held under barrel bombs and indiscriminate bombing," Hamdoon said in a telephone interview with Reuters. "Let the bombing stop and withdraw and curtail the (Shi'ite) militias until there is a solution for the wise men in these areas."

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