Juburi comments cast doubt on Iraq preparedness to liberate Anbar

Friday 22/05/2015
‘Desired level of preparedness was not reached’

BAGHDAD - The operation by Iraqi government and allied forces to liberate Anbar and its capital Ramadi from the Islamic State group is facing a barrage of criticism over its timing and the choice of the codename.

Parliament Speaker Salim al-Juburi said Wednesday that the military operation was launched too soon.

"Zero hour was announced but this important battle should have been better prepared, especially because Anbar is a bastion," he said in an interview.

Meanwhile, influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr criticised the codename given to the operation in Sunni areas of Iraq, warning that it risked fanning the flames of sectarianism.

The offensive, in which regular government forces are also taking part, was named "Operation Labaik ya Hussein", which roughly translates as "We are at your service, Hussein" and refers to one of Shiite Islam's most revered imams.

"This name is going to be misunderstood, there's no doubt," said Sadr in a statement presented as an answer to a question by a religious student.

"Hussein is a national symbol and a prince of jihad... but we don't want him to be used by the other side to claim this is a sectarian war," he said.

Sadr, whose own paramilitary organisation Saraya al-Salam is involved in operations against IS, said names such as "Labaik ya Salaheddin" or "Labaik ya Anbar" would have been more appropriate.

Regular forces and Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitaries have launched an operation aimed at severing IS supply lines in Anbar and are closing in on Ramadi.

The battle to wrest back the provincial capital the jihadists captured on May 17 in a deadly three-day blitz has not begun in earnest however, with government forces positioning themselves around the city for the time being.

The jihadists also control most other parts of Anbar.

"If victory is achieved against Daesh there, it will prepare the ground for the larger battle in Nineveh," said Parliament Speaker Salim al-Juburi, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

The northwestern province of Nineveh is IS's other main stronghold in Iraq. Its capital Mosul is Iraq's second city and still holds a large civilian population.

"But it was understood after the fact that the desired level of preparedness was not reached," Juburi said.

He said the Sunni tribal fighters who had at least partially been holding off IS in Ramadi for months until two weeks ago need much more support and weapons.

"We have to focus on this point in our battle against Daesh, which is described as a Sunni group," said the 43-year-old president of the council of representatives, himself a Sunni.

"Whoever confronts it must also be from the Sunni community, after being given support, and should not be second fiddle."

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had opposed deploying Shiite militias to Anbar, a Sunni stronghold, but the poor performance of the regular forces during the fall of Ramadi left him with few options.

With US support, he had started training and incorporating Sunni tribal fighters into the Hashed al-Shaabi, a solution seen as more palatable to Anbar's Sunni population.

The organisation is an umbrella for Shiite militias and volunteers which Abadi wanted to turn into a more cross-sectarian force and a precursor of a National Guard.