US hosts talks with Iraqi Sunni leaders: report

US hosts talks with Iraqi Sunni leaders: report
Political source tells al-Araby al-Jadeed that members of Islamic army, Mujahideen army, Naqshbandis and Baathists are in Washington in attempt to unite factions.
3 min read
07 December, 2014
US Secretary of State John Kerry meeting with Abadi [Getty]

A delegation of Iraqi Sunni groups has travelled to Washington for talks at the request of the US embassy in Baghdad, a political source has told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

According to the source, the delegation includes Sheikh Ali Hatem, the head of al-Dalaim tribe, as well as representatives of factions including the Islamic army, the Mujahideen army, the Naqshbandis and the Baathists.

The delegation is understood to have arrived Friday. Atheel al-Nujeifi, the governor of Nineveh, travelled separately to Washington but was also taking part in the talks.

The source said the delegation has met a number of US officials, and noted that the meetings were still ongoing.

"The main aim of Washington's invitation to the Iraqi opposition and armed factions is to unite them and help them play a role in shaping Iraq"s policy," the source said.

The source added the US wanted to use their experience to help re-establish the Iraqi army, given that several in the delegation used to be senior officials in the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein.

The groups reportedly in Washington represent the Sunni minority of Iraq, which was politically sidelined by Abadi's predecessor, the Shia former prime minister Nour al-Maliki.

The Sunni factions are not united in their aims, however. Some have supported the Islamic State group's move into northern Iraq, while others have fought against it, and allegiances often shift.

The US is aware of Iran's influence on Iraq, and that Abadi is unable to break free of Iran no matter how hard he tries.

Political analyst Mohammad Abdul Khaleq said Washington's invitation came as Abadi launched a campaign to remove corrupt officials from the security institution. Recent reports suggest the army is stuffed with up to 50,000 soldiers who do not exist , whose salaries are paid instead to officials or commanders.

"The timing is certainly interesting," said Khaleq. "The US is making long-term plans, it is aware of Iran's influence on the Iraqi government, and that Abadi is unable to break free of Iran's constraints no matter how hard he tries.

"They are trying to change Iraqi politics and keep it away from its Iranian sponsor... the US will use [the opposition] to threaten and press Abadi if he tries to get closer to Iran.

"Washington might make these opposition factions the nucleus of Iraq's future government, after Abadi is forced to cancel the Baathist exclusion law."

Khaleq added: "The US realised that if Iran's allies ruled Iraq, the country would be torn apart, and Iranian influence in the region would be furthered, as happened under Maliki."

"The US is aware of the mess Maliki made and is trying to rectify the mistake of supporting his policies, which were based on sectarianism. That led to frustration in Iraq that allowed the IS group to spread and occupy large parts of northern Iraq."

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.