MESOP : LATEST – Maliki Lashes out at Sunnis & Riyadh, as Rebels Make New Gains

By RUDAW 18.6.2014 – ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – As Sunni militants in Iraq made new gains with the capture of Tel Afar, consolidating wins as they march toward Baghdad, Iraq’s Shiite prime minister defied calls to reach out to the country’s Sunnis and accused Riyadh of backing the rebels.

The fall of Tal Afar to a mix of jihadis and loyalists of the ousted Iraqi regime and military came just a week after the rebels captured the second-largest city of Mosul and vowed to continue to Baghdad, where they want to topple Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  “The center of Tal Afar and most of the sub-districts and villages except Dhumar and Rabia have fallen,” said an Iraqi official who spoke to Rudaw on condition of anonymity. “Eighty percent of the population has fled.” He added that the military had lost contact with the top commander in Nineveh province, where Mosul is the capital and Tal Afar is a key town on a highway to Syria.

“We have lost contact with General Abu Walid. He has probably gone into hiding,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.  But the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is involved in the fighting, said it had captured the commander.  Iraqi security forces have lost large swathes of territory to the Sunni militants, who are believed to enjoy local support from disgruntled fellow Sunnis who say they are fed up with a government that favors only the majority Shiite population. The United States, which backs Maliki, has said it wants to the see the unpopular premier embrace the disgruntled Sunni population.

But Maliki, who is vehemently opposed by Iraq’s Sunnis, Kurds and even some fellow Shiite parties, declared he was fed up with the main Sunni political bloc.

He said he was tired of “traitors” in the government and military, and accused Saudi Arabia of backing the rebels and fuelling“genocide.”  “We hold them responsible for supporting these groups financially and morally,” Maliki said, directing his accusations at neighboring Sunni Saudi Arabia, which denies financing the ISIS. He accused Riyadh of being behind “crimes that may qualify as genocide: the spilling of Iraqi blood, the destruction of Iraqi state institutions and historic and religious sites.”

The only real winners of the turmoil in Iraq have been the country’s Kurds, who are also Sunnis but are ethnically distinct from the Arab population. After the Iraqi army deserted in droves following the rebel attack on Mosul, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) deployed its Peshmerga forces in large swathes of Kurdish-populated territories outside its official borders. The so-called “disputed territories” are also claimed by Shiites and Sunnis.  An official from Tal Afar who was fleeing with the population told Rudaw that residents had escaped en masse to the Kurdish-controlled town of Shangal.  A Rudaw correspondent said that thousands were fleeing to Shangal and other areas under Peshmerga control. The fall of Tal Afar is significant because of its location on a highway that runs to Syria, where ISIS is also engaged in fighting the Damascus regime.  The declared aim of the ISIS is to create an Islamic enclave that straddles both Iraq and Syria.