Iraq’s Sunni tribesmen are considered key to turning back the extremists who have taken control of much of their territory. But the chaos at a conference in Baghdad to discuss the counteroffensive inspired little hope that they can present a united front.

Some sheiks accused others of supporting Islamic State militants, while others claimed that some of the attendees were not “real sheiks” and had been paid to disrupt the event. As tensions boiled, bodyguards threw punches and participants threw chairs.

The first disagreement broke out before proceedings even started at the Anbar Liberation Conference at al-Rasheed Hotel, in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone. Much of the western province of Anbar is under the grip of militants, with the provincial capital, Ramadi, falling to them in May.

“We asked one family to leave,” Younes Abed Awad Albujassim said. “These people are with Daash,” he said, using an Arabic term for the Islamic State. “We will never sit with them, not any of them. Right now there is blood between us.”

About 10,000 Sunni tribesmen have volunteered to fight the Islamic State in Anbar, according to tribal leaders. Iraqi officials say these tribesmen, many of whom are receiving basic training with U.S. troops, will play a key role in retaking Anbar’s cities.

“It is time to implement the path of liberation, through the gates of unity,” said Salim al-Jubouri, the speaker of Iraq’s parliament, as he gave the opening address at the conference.

But the words appeared to fall on deaf ears. A stout Anbari in military uniform who had been ejected earlier made his way back in, exchanging insults with a sheik, whose bodyguards then began to throw punches. The scuffle was caught on video. As chairs were hurled, one attendee screamed at journalists to stop filming.

“This guy claims to be a sheik and received salaries and weapons for 1,000 men,” said Abdel Hamid Ibrahim, a legal adviser to the Anbar governorate, said of the man who had been ejected. “This is our problem — we have a few people who receive arms and they disappear. I bet he couldn’t even find the way to Anbar.”

Sheik Hamid Shawkat, head of Anbar’s tribal council, blamed paid “infiltrators” for the disruption. “We are united,” he claimed. “We want more training and supplies.”

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