Several influential Sunni tribal leaders in the western Anbar province that is Iraq's largest on Wednesday swore loyalty to the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group.
The pledge was read aloud in Fallujah in a statement by influential sheikh Ahmed Dara al-Jumaili following a meeting between the tribal leaders, reports Al Jazeera.
The paper noted that it remains unclear whether the tribes had been threatened and forced to swear allegiance, given that ISIS controls Fallujah and most of Anbar province.
Baghdad-based reporter Imran Khan of Al Jazeera analyzed the pledge, saying, "if this is a willing move, then that is very worrying for the Iraqi government. The statement they issued was very strong – it condemned the government. It said the only way that peace would come to Anbar province is if the tribes joined ISIL (i.e. ISIS – ed.)."
Among the tribes that swore loyalty to ISIS was the al-Jumaili tribe, which is said to have a strong military force along with influence over other Anbar tribes.
The pledge by Sunni tribes emphasizes the increasingly sectarian nature of the conflict in Iraq, with several Sunni leaders in Anbar recently criticizing how Shi'ite militias largely backed by Iran are playing a key role in the fighting against ISIS.
While Iraq has a Sunni majority its government is largely controlled by Shi'ite elements, heightening the tensions and partially explaining the backlash of the Sunni tribesmen against the government.