Iraq's speaker warns of civilian deaths from US air strikes

An Islamic State fighter keeps guard as people, who according to them are employees of the Islamic State hired to monitor and check the quality of goods in markets, throw confiscated products in central Raqqa August 14, 2014.

BAGHDAD - Iraq's parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri has told US Secretary of State John Kerry that air strikes on Islamic State should not kill civilians, the speaker said to Reuters in an interview.

President Barack Obama has promised to destroy the Islamist militants using a "systematic campaign of air strikes". Washington has already conducted more than 150 strikes in Iraq in recent weeks.

"The only condition that we made was that the air strikes must be concentrated and accurate and against the terrorist groups," Jabouri said at his house in Baghdad on Wednesday after meeting Kerry.

Islamic State fighters have seized large chunks of Iraq's north and parts of western Anbar province this year. The group has been tolerated by some of the Sunni Muslim minority who accuse the Shi'ite-led government of marginalising their community and arresting them indiscriminately.

Jabouri, a 43-year-old Sunni, is considered a balancing force in a political system dominated by Shi'ites.

A doctor of law, Jabouri says he believes in Baghdad's government; two of his brothers were killed by the Sunni militant group al-Qaeda in Iraq. But he also appeals to Sunnis who are sceptical of Iraq's Shi'ite elite.

Washington hopes that Sunnis like Jabouri can help bring the country together to defeat Islamic State. Until now, many Sunni tribal fighters and members of armed factions have sided with Islamic State rather than the government, convinced Baghdad is the greater of two evils.

To help win Sunnis over, Jabouri argued that the Iraqi security forces needed to stop immediately their use of indiscriminate "barrel bombs" and artillery to batter Sunni areas of Iraq where Islamic State are in control.

Residents in Falluja and Gharma in Anbar, where Islamic State has a large presence, regularly report massive shelling that kills civilians and destroys homes.

The US supplied munitions to the Iraqi military for its fight against Islamic State this year in Anbar, where hundreds of thousands have been displaced.

In June, the US military asked the Iraqi government to stop the use of barrel bombs, but according to the New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch, Anbar residents and security officers, barrel bomb attacks have resumed.

"Random shelling that targets civilians is rejected by us, naturally, and is not considered as a constructive military practice," Jabouri said.

"Because civilians will receive the greatest degree of harm and in truth we will lose many lives and they will hate us more."

On Thursday, 14 barrel bombs were dropped on Falluja city, killing 22 civilians, a source at a hospital in the city said.


Washington only agreed to deepen its involvement in Iraq on the condition that newly-appointed Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi formed an inclusive government, bringing in Sunnis who had been isolated by his predecessor, Nuri al-Maliki.

The speaker was a key figure in forming the government, pushing parliamentarians to stop bickering and vote on Abadi's cabinet on Monday.

Kurdish politicians had threatened to pull out of politics in Baghdad unless they were given a greater share of government revenues but joined the parliament session halfway through, finally agreeing to give Abadi a three-month trial period.

Sunni politicians also expressed deep reservations but many eventually voted to support Abadi's cabinet.

"Political differences should not be shouldered by the Iraqi people who were waiting for the government to start its work," Jabouri said. "The important thing was that the session ended with the formation of the government."

Jabouri, who has served as head of the human rights committee in parliament, also warned of the threat posed by increasingly powerful pro-government militias.

Iraq's national army lost several northern cities in quick succession to Islamic State this summer. Following the US strikes it was largely the irregular Shi'ite militias who counter-attacked against Islamic State, winning applause. But the militias also torched homes.

Prime Minister Abadi has both praised and condemned the militias, which are loosely attached to the state's military command, but act with little supervision on the ground from the security forces. Abadi has pledged to bring them into the formal state security forces, a move Jabouri supports.

He said: "If we want to respect the state and its institutions ... we should recognise that weapons must be in the hands of the state exclusively."