- The Washington Times - Friday, October 31, 2014

The State Department strongly condemned “brutal actions” of the Islamic State Friday, following reports that group carried out a mass execution of moderate Sunni Muslim tribesmen who had fought back against the extremists in Iraq’s western Anbar province.

The “depravity of the reported executions,” State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said, is among the latest evidence of the “campaign of terror” being carried out in Iraq by the Islamic State, the al Qaeda-inspired Sunni extremist group also known as ISIL and ISIS.

While Ms. Psaki pointed to other acts exposing the Islamic State’s “goal” of driving “sectarian divisions” in Iraq, the latest development in Anbar comes just as U.S. officials are attempting to encourage moderate tribal fighters in the province to rise up against the extremist group.

U.S. officials have told The Washington Times that a key part of the strategy for containing and defeating the Islamic State centers on recreating the so-called “Sunni Awakening” that saw Iraqi tribal militias in Anbar take the fight to the Islamic State’s predecessor outfit, al Qaeda in Iraq, between 2005 and 2007.

While the previous awakening was never officially sanctioned by Iraq’s government, Obama administration officials say the goal now is to create a system in which Sunni tribal fighters will be rolled into a new Iraqi national guard force officially connected to the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.

President Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told an audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace this week that, “if the Iraqis get it right,” the new force will be “clearly tethered to the state in a sustained way.”

Sources speaking anonymously with The Times due to sensitivity surrounding the strategy have said retired U.S. Marine Gen. John R. Allen, whom the Obama administration tapped last month to lead the international fight against the Islamic State, has pushed the strategy during recent meetings with tribal leaders from Anbar.

What remains to be seen is how the recent massacre will impact the strategy. News reports have said the Islamic State executed at least 220 Iraqis in retaliation against a tribe that opposed the extremist group. Two mass graves were found Thursday containing members the Albu Nimr tribe captured by the group.

Witnesses said captives were men aged between 18 and 55, who had been shot at close range, according to a report by The Sydney Morning Herald.

The bodies of more than 70 Albu Nimr men were dumped near the town of Hit in the Sunni heartland Anbar province, according to witnesses who said most of the victims were members of the police or an anti-Islamic State militia called Sahwa, which means “Awakening” in Arabic, the Herald report said.

Ms. Psaki said Friday that “individuals responsible for these horrendous acts of violence must be identified and held fully accountable.”

“ISIL does not represent the people of Iraq,” she said in a statement circulated to reporters. “They are murderers and terrorists, who do not govern, but bleed the country they occupy.”

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