Ninevah Gov. Atheel al-Nujaifi warned about the repercussions of the clashes between the army and the security services on the one hand and the Iraqi Sunnis in the province of Ninevah on the other, saying that the Syrian crisis has increased sectarian tension in Iraq. According to Nujaifi, that supports the idea of establishing autonomous regions, especially in Ninevah province.
Ninevah officials are worried that the crisis in Anbar province would bring Ninevah back to the atmosphere experienced by Mosul last spring, following the outbreak of the clashes between armed groups and security forces after the army stormed the sit-in in Hawija, Kirkuk.
In a discussion with Al-Hayat, Nujaifi said: “The province is worried about the recent events in Anbar. Any conflict between the security forces and the Sunnis will be quickly reflected on the people in Ninevah. These events have made the people of Ninevah province despair that the conditions of the Sunnis in general, and the people of Ninevah province in particular, will be reformed any time soon. … Therefore, our only option to restore hope to the people of the province is to come out with a new project that has specific features. We have all agreed to request either the establishment of an [autonomous] Ninevah province or to demand the internationalization of the situation of the Sunnis in Iraq because of the injustice they are suffering.”
Nujaifi said: “[Iraqi Prime Minister] Nouri al-Maliki wants to risk the security of Iraqi society for electoral purposes. He always uses the [recess periods] to make his moves. Every year during the Christmas period he provokes a major crisis, taking advantage of the world being on holiday. … In today’s case, his aim is the election. [He wants] to achieve a victory over his Shiite rivals and at the same time to push the Shiite extremism project a step forward.”
Ninevah’s government accuses Maliki of confiscating its authority over the deployment of the army in major cities, and for launching arrest campaigns by exploiting the laws of “accountability and justice” and “the fight against terrorism,” as well as for depriving the province of a budget that is commensurate with its population.
Nujaifi stressed that there are fears that the Anbar crisis may spread to Mosul, saying: “Yes, we have concerns. But we are now taking a series of measures to prevent this. We have measures that enhance trust between the security services and the people of the province in order to isolate the security services from the political conflicts. [We plan to] stick together, the citizens and the security services, in our war against al-Qaeda, without internal conflicts.”
He considered the resignation of dozens of deputies from the Iraqiyya List to be “like withdrawing from the political battle just when it’s intensifying. I am against the idea of withdrawal or resignation. We should take a step forward in our political struggle, and not withdraw. For this, we raised the idea of forming an [autonomous] province or to internationalize the issue.”
About the effects of the regional conflicts regarding the Syrian crisis on the situation in the provinces of Ninevah and Anbar, he stressed, “The Syrian crisis has caused increased sectarian tensions in Iraq. And I personally think that Iran doesn’t want to push Iraq toward internal conflict in this circumstance, especially if we consider Iran to be skilled at calculating its strategic interests and the power balance around it. … But Maliki thinks his survival in power is linked to how much he can incite sectarianism and lead the Shiite project in Iraq.”
He pointed out that “the situation in Anbar is different from that in the province of Ninevah. In Ninevah, there’s a unified leadership that managed during three consecutive elections to maintain its leading position in the province. So reaching a decision and directing citizens is easier in Ninevah province than in Anbar, where there are still many leaders that, although they stand together in confronting Maliki, disagree on the project that they will adopt or have different abilities in controlling the tribes to avoid a confrontation with the army.”
He revealed that the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) “has extensions on the outskirts of the province of Ninevah, far and near the Syrian border, or deep in the ... desert. But [ISIS] has no significant presence inside the cities or in the areas near the cities. We have asked ... Operations Command to direct its efforts to those areas.”
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