Shiites volunteers take positions during a military advance in areas under the control of Islamic State, in the town of Samarra, in Salaheddin province, on July 12, 2014
Shiites volunteers take positions during a military advance in areas under the control of Islamic State, in the town of Samarra, in Salaheddin province, on July 12, 2014 © Ahmad al-Rubaye - AFP/File
Shiites volunteers take positions during a military advance in areas under the control of Islamic State, in the town of Samarra, in Salaheddin province, on July 12, 2014
AFP
Last updated: July 16, 2014

Iraq Sunnis play down Islamic State role in "popular revolt"

Iraqi Sunni leaders in exile said Wednesday that last month's flare-up of violence was the result of a "popular revolt" against the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Several of around 300 Sunni clerics, tribal leaders, insurgent commanders and businessmen who attended a meeting in Amman insisted that the Islamic State (IS), which in June declared a caliphate straddling Iraq and Syria, was only a marginal player in their country.

"What is happening in Iraq now is a revolt of the oppressed," said Abdelmalek al-Saadi, a senior Sunni cleric.

"This revolt was carried out by the tribes to support oppressed Iraqis. IS is a small part of this revolt."

IS fighters spearheaded an offensive which overran large swathes of five northern and western provinces, sparking a huge population displacement, much of it along sectarian lines.

Many Sunni rebel outfits insist their alliance with IS is only temporary and that the jihadist group is not representative enough to administer its self-declared caliphate.

However, analysts say IS has bullied its allies into irrelevance and is calling the shots on the ground.

"We call on Arab countries to support the rebels in Iraq," Ahmad Dabash, a commander of the Islamic Army of Iraq, a group which emerged after the 2003 US-led invasion and remains active, mainly in Salaheddin and Diyala provinces.

"The world should help Iraqis in their legitimate revolt that seeks to save Iraq and the entire region from the unknown," Dabash told reporters after the closed-door meeting.

Sheikh Mohammed Bashar al-Faidi, spokesman for the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, said the Amman meeting wanted the world "to understand the ... rebels' aims.

"We hold the international community responsible for the killing of civilians. We want Iraq to remain united."

Iraq was almost torn apart in 2006-2007 when the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad, triggered a wave of sectarian slaughter between Shiite militias and Al-Qaeda-allied Sunni militants.

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