More than 1,000 Sunni fighters from Anbar province have joined a new anti-Islamic State militia launched by the Iraqi officials. The push against the IS Sunni extremists has so far been spearheaded by Shiite forces.
The Baghdad government, led by new Shiite prime minister Haider al-Abadi, enlisted the first batch of Sunni recruits Friday, as the first step towards creating an anti-IS force expected to reach a total of 6,000 men.
The ceremony was held in an army base only a few kilometers south of the main Islamic State stronghold in Anbar provinceI, the city of Fallujah. Almost two thirds of the province has been under IS control for the last year and a half.
"Your country has been stolen by a bunch of thieves and thugs, and you must fight to take it back," Anbar Governor Sohaib Al-Rawi said to some 1,100 recruits during a large parade attended by politicians, tribal leaders and security forces' representatives.
"Let this day be the day when we declare a massive revolution against Daesh... kick Daesh out of our homes, fight their extremist ideology and tighten the noose around them," he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
Fighting on their own
Although hundreds of Sunni tribal fighters had already been fighting the Islamic State in Anbar during recent weeks, the Friday ceremony marked their official entry in the so-called Popular Mobilization Brigades, an official organization responsible for coordinating armed groups.
The Sunni tribal forces had been fighting with their own weapons, and without compensation from the authorities. Now, they are due to receive some $650 dollars (580 euros) per week, as well as government-issued firearms.
Several of the new recruits were teenagers, some of them only 15 or 16 years of age.
Hunted by the IS
In the past, Shiite dominated governments have been reluctant to arm and train the tribal forces, partly because of deep sectarian distrust between the two Islamic confessions.
Anbar's Sunni tribes were a key factor in defeating al Qaeda forces in 2006. Nevertheless, the previous Baghdad government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki cut the funding for the groups, with many of their fighters later targeted and killed by the Islamic State.
However, Maliki's successor, Haider al-Abadi, has pushed for inclusion of Sunni fighters in a bid to make the anti-IS drive a cross sectarian lines.
In addition, Iraq's Sunnis remain sensitive about demands by Shiite militias to fight against the Islamic State in Anbar province, accusing the militiamen for atrocities against civilians.
The main battle against the Islamist militant group is still expected to be carried out by elite army units.
dj/gsw (AFP, AP)