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UAE urges arming Iraqi Sunni tribes in IS fight, says local media

More than their fears about pilot safety, UAE was concerned over anti-IS coalition lack of support for Iraq's Sunni tribes, says Emirati daily
Iraqi Sunni fighters from the Jubur tribe celebrate after defeating Islamic State group in Diyala province last month (AFP)

The United Arab Emirates, which suspended air strikes against the Islamic State group, wants the US-led coalition to arm Sunni tribes in Iraq to fight militants, government media reported Friday.

The daily Al-Ittihad said the Emirates' decision to stop raids in Syria last year was "due to the need to assure adequate protection for all pilots participating in strikes against Daesh" - an Arabic acronym for IS.

But an even greater concern, according to the paper, is the lack of support for Sunni tribes in Iraq's Anbar province, large parts of which have been overrun by militants.

"The most important reservation . . . is the dissatisfaction with the coalition which has not kept its promise to remember the Sunnis of Anbar, to train and equip them in the war against Daesh," it said. 

"Neither air strikes nor a media war are sufficient to defeat" IS, the paper added.

The UAE pulled out of air strike missions in December, shortly after a Jordanian pilot was captured by IS extremists after his F-16 fighter jet went down in eastern Syria, according to US officials.

Last week, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan reportedly asked US ambassador to the UAE, Barbara Leaf, why the US had not put more assets in place in northern Iraq to recover downed personnel.

“He let her have it over this,” an official, speaking anonymously, told the New York Times.

Airman Muaz Kasasbeh was later burned alive by the militants in a gruesome video released this week.

The Pentagon said Thursday it was redeploying some aircraft from Kuwait to northern Iraq to boost its ability to rescue downed coalition pilots, as requested by the UAE.

IS spearheaded a major offensive in June that overran large areas north and west of Baghdad, including significant parts of Anbar.

Sunni tribal fighters have played a key role in keeping militants from gaining further ground in the province.

The UAE was one of the first countries to join the US-led coalition and brings with it a collection of F-16s that had been attacking IS locations in northern Iraq and Syria.

In recent months, tensions have arisen between the US and the UAE over Iran's growing role in the fight against IS with Emirati leaders apparently expressing concern that the US has allowed Iran to join the campaign in Iraq.

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