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Iraq's Abadi struggles to gain Sunni tribal support

31 October, 2014

BAGHDAD: When Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi took office, he was regarded as a moderate Shia leader who could win over powerful Sunni tribal chiefs to the fight against Islamic State.

Three months later, Sunnis who once helped US Marines kick the Islamic State's predecessor al Qaeda out of Iraq view Abadi with deep scepticism because he has yet to deliver on promises to support their neglected Sunni heartland Anbar province.

Abadi, for his part, seems mistrustful of tribal leaders, who are plagued by divisions and accused of misuse of government funds and military support in the past.

A 62-year-old British-educated Shia Muslim engineer, Abadi is a much more conciliatory figure than his predecessor Nuri al-Maliki, whose policies were seen by most Sunnis as discriminatory, leading to an uprising in Sunni areas that was exploited by Islamic State fighters this year.

Washington, now providing air support for Iraqi forces, hopes that the new prime minister's outreach can rebuild the shaky alliance with Sunni tribal figures, particularly in Anbar, which helped the US Marines defeat al Qaeda during the "surge" offensive of 2006-2007. But on the evidence of a televised meeting Abadi called this week with tribal leaders, he still faces a tough task.

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