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Sunni Sheikh Comes to Washington Seeking Arms, Aid

Amid the chaos of his home city Ramadi’s fall Sunday to Islamic State fighters, a senior Sunni tribal leader arrived in Washington, D.C., to warn lawmakers and senior administration officials this week of Iran’s growing influence in the war-torn region.

Sheikh Abdalrazzaq Hatem al-Suleiman told CQ on Monday that he made the trip to meet with numerous lawmakers to offer a first-hand perspective of what is happening in Iraq with Islamic State militants gaining ground. But both Suleiman and his lobbyist, former CIA official Jonathan Greenhill, said they were shocked that more lawmakers so far have passed up the opportunity to meet.

Islamic State “is a cancer and is eating us from inside,” Suleiman told CQ through a translator .

Suleiman, who fled with his family to Jordan last year after Islamic State assassination attempts, leads the Dulaimi tribe of approximately 3.5 million Sunnis in and around Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s biggest province.

The Sunni leader said he needs money, arms, and training from the United States in order for his tribesmen to fend off the militants. They are already fighting, he added, but with limited weapons and funding. 

He said he also seeks to unify the Sunni tribes.

“We want all the tribes to unite to fight Daesh,” he said through a translator who used an Arabic term for Islamic State. “What we are wishing for from the United States is to support my plan to rescue what is left for our families and our homes.

“The tribes don’t want them [Islamic State fighters], but Daesh is gaining weapons,” he continued. “It’s like a beast that is getting bigger and bigger every day.”

Greenhill, formerly a senior operations officer at the CIA who now runs the Greenhill Group LLC, said he is “perplexed” that neighboring Gulf States have not stepped in to help the Sunnis’ cause. But both he and Suleiman said there is a perception among those countries that the United States, which invaded Iraq in 2003, should take a lead role.

“It does seem the Gulf countries are waiting for the United States,” Greenhill said. “But the Gulf states are becoming more vocal” as the U.S. seems less inclined to take action.

Both said the ongoing nuclear deal with Iran is a complication — as is presidential politics. Nearly all the Republican contenders for the White House, for example, have called the Iraqi invasion, based on now-discredited intelligence, a mistake.

Greenhill said calling such considerations a hurdle is an understatement, but “that hurdle is not insurmountable.”

Suleiman has confirmed meetings with lawmakers, including Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who is hosting the sheikh, as well as other California Republicans Ed Royce, who chairs the Foreign Affairs panel, Dana Rohrabacher, Darrell Issa and Paul Cook.

Also on the schedule are Reps. Randy Weber, R-Texas; Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii;  Alan Grayson, D-Fla.; and Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill.

Suleiman plans to meet with Brett McGurk, a State Department official who serves as the deputy special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL.

“The sheikh is here to see as many senators and congressmen as possible who have an interest in Iraq,” Greenhill said. “He’s here to provide ground truth, and he’s here to discuss with them support for his democratic movement, which is Sunni-based.”

Greenhill is registered to represent the sheikh for a $25,000 per month fee, according to disclosure documents filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act administered by the Justice Department. Greenhill’s firm “will provide consulting services which shall include assistance in contacts with the U.S. government, diplomatic missions, news organizations, U.S. and other companies wishing to do business in Al Anbar Governorate and other areas of Iraq,” the FARA disclosure said.