Iraqi Sunnis Seek US Weapons, Troops

02/03/2015 11:59 am ET | Updated Apr 04, 2015

In Washington this week, pro-American Sunni leaders of Iraq's Western Anbar province asked the Obama Administration for weapons and 10,000 US troops to help "crush" Islamist terrorists -- again.

Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, who fought in the Awakening against Al-Qaeda terrorists in 2006 and 2007 alongside American allies, is once more seeking to liberate his Al Anbar province from the hands of Islamist militants - this time from ISIL.

"When Obama was running for election he visited me in Anbar and said he will not turn his back and would join us in the fight against terrorism," recalled Abu Risha in an interview in Washington where he visited Vice President Biden and other senior officials.

"But when he became president he pulled out Americans in such a rush and [then Prime Minister] Nouri al-Maliki did not sign a strategic agreement with the United States."

Abu Risha also blamed Obama for pulling out of Iraq completely by 2011 without leaving behind some forces to train Iraqi troops and air power to prevent the revival of extremists. The administration was unable to negotiate a "status of forces" agreement with the Baghdad government to protect U.S. soldiers from being tried in Iraqi courts. However, in leaving Afghanistan last year, the Obama administration signed an agreement to leave some 8,000 US troops to train Afghan forces and provide emergency air power against encroaching Taliban.

"Our visit to Washington has been very successful - we clarified what is happening in Anbar and in Iraq," Abu Risha said. "The Untied States sacrificed the lives of its soldiers and billions of dollars to create democracy -- and thousands of Iraqis were killed.

"We want light, medium and heavy weapons and expertise and help to build a state of law and institutions."

Abu Risha, like many other Sunni Arabs in Iraq, felt left out of any meaningful role in the Iraqi government led by Nouri al-Maliki. It refused to accept into the Iraqi Army the tribal Sunni fighters in the militia called the Awakening even though they had fought with the U.S. army against al Qaeda in Falluja and Ramadi in 2006 and 2007. Experienced Sunni officers who had served under Saddam Hussein were also barred from senior positions in the new Iraqi army.

ISIL, also called DAESH in Arabic, was able to capitalize on Sunni dissatisfaction with the Shiite-dominated Iraqi regime of Al-Maliki and raced from its headquarters in Syria to grab Iraq's second biggest city, Mosul, in a few days of fighting last year.

ISIL capitalized on the collapse of the corrupt Iraqi Army which abandoned Mosul, leaving behind heavy weaponry such as tanks to equip thousands of terrorists.

The Awakening leaders voiced support for the new Baghdad governmet led by Haider al-Abadi, which they said is "trying to repair damage created by the Al-Maliki government," said the Sheikh.

Abu Risha asked that any weapons and training of Iraqis to oust ISIL be delivered to the national Iraqi army, not to Shiite militias influenced by Iran or to new Awakening Sunni militias. He said that both Sunnis and Shiites are serving side by side in army units at all levels so he has faith that the country can survive the splintering of recent years into Shiite, ISIL, Sunni tribes. Kurdish and other factions.

"Iraq is an ancient country capable of building its security forces," he said.

He said that what happens in Iraq will not stay in Iraq. "Terrorism threatens the entire world," said the Sheikh. He said that tens of thousands of extremists from 45 countries - including China, France, Chechnya, Bengal, and Uzbekistan -- have gathered in Iraq. They will spread their terror worldwide if they are not defeated in Anbar province - a vast, mainly desert region reaching from the Tigris-Euphrates river basin to the Syrian border.

"If terrorism wins in Iraq, it will become the axis of evil and threaten the world," he said.

Former U.S. Marine General Anthony Zinni recently said if he was given two U.S. Marine brigades (each about 8,000 troops), he could eliminate ISIS. Abu Risha said he agreed with that assessment but asked only for 10,000 U.S. troops.

The power of ISIL was demonstrated during the visit of Abu Risha and other Anbar officials such as the governor: ISIL fighters invaded Abu Risha's family compound in Ramadi and destroyed six houses and a small mosque. His family had already vacated the compound.

ISIL also has destroyed hospitals, schools, bridges and other infrastructure.

"We will crush the DAESH with the support of the international community," said Abu Risha.

Despite some reports of tribal rivalry, "the tribes work together and they are able to achieve victory against DAESH if equipped for what the battle needs," he said.

His optimistic prediction came the same day that Kurdish and other Iraqi forces declared the Syrian city of Kobani, on the Turkish border, free of ISIL control. U.S.-led airstrikes had no small part in that victory.