Instability in Iraq has grown steadily over the recent months. The Iraqi government has lost control of the strategic city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad. For the first time since the American troops' withdrawal in 2011, fighters from a group affiliated with Al Qaeda and Sunni tribesmen have seized parts of the two biggest cities in Anbar province bordering Syria.
The fighting erupted after troops broke up a protest camp by Sunni Arabs in the city of Ramadi. They were protesting marginalizing the Sunnis by the Shia-led government. When Prime Minister Maliki dispatched the Iraqi army to quell a protest in Ramadi over a week ago, local tribes fought back. Maliki ordered the troops to withdraw. As a result Islamic militants appeared in Ramadi, Fallujah and Tarmiya triggering combat actions across the whole Anbar province. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) asserted control over the western Iraqi city of Fallujah on January 3 declaring an Islamic state there. They had received a boost from some local Sunni tribesmen, who had joined them to fight the forces of Iraq's Shiite-led government, while others turned against the jihadists. Local tribes, Iraqi security forces and al-Qaeda-affiliated militants fought one another for days in a kind of free-for-all messy three-way fray. Hundreds of Fallujah residents have fled. The Prime Minister reversed his decision sending army units back to Anbar. Now the Iraqi army is bracing up for a real tough fight ahead. In case of failure the whole country will be threatened with Syria-like scenario.
Root of problem
The current violence is rooted in the sectarian disputes left unresolved when U.S. troops withdrew and inflamed by the escalating conflict in neighboring Syria. Many Iraqi Sunnis claim they are being marginalized by Mr. Maliki's Shia-led government. Mr. Maliki's drive to restore control is being seen by many Sunnis as an attempt at domination and oppression, and it is taking Iraq back to the brink of a sectarian civil war. In recent months Sunni militants have stepped up attacks across the country, while Shia groups retaliated with deadly reprisals bringing the situation to the brink of full-scale sectarian conflict. On January 1 the United Nations said at least 7,818 civilians and 1,050 members of the security forces had been killed in 2013. Islamist militants benefit from these deep-seated grievances. The upheaval testifies to the soaring capabilities of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), the rebranded version of the al-Qaeda which has expanded into Syria while escalating its activities in Iraq. In the past year al-Qaeda has bounced back there killing more than 8,000 people in 2013, according to the United Nations. ISIL has become one of the main components of the so-called «rebels» fighting in the Western-backed war for regime-change in neighboring Syria. Having seized control of territory in northern Syria, it has proven capable of moving forces back and forth across the Syrian-Iraqi border to stage car bombings, assaults on military and police units, and sectarian attacks. Its stated aim is the establishment of a Sunni Muslim caliphate spanning both countries. A backdrop of near continuous urban bombings against Shi’a and government targets continues in northern Iraq and Baghdad. ISIL hopes to link its holdings in Eastern Syria with corresponding areas of control in Iraq’s majority Sunni Arab northwest. In September it bombed four key bridges linking important Iraqi border towns with urban centers closer to Baghdad. In late November, ISIL fighters paraded through a main square of Ramadi to rally support. The recent capture of positions in Ramadi and large parts of Fallujah was the first time in years that Sunni insurgents had taken ground in the province's major cities and held their positions for days.
Millions of war weary Iraqis — Shi’a, Sunni Arab, and Christian — are caught in the middle. No surprise that the number of Iraqi refugees entering Jordan recently has spiked. The ongoing violence will certainly affect the parliamentary elections in Iraq scheduled for April.
Iraq developments: broader regional view
Instability is a scourge of the Middle East with vague prospects for the things getting better in 2014. Libya remains to be a country awash with weapons and uncontrolled militias. Since the NATO intervention to topple Gaddafi, successive transitional governments have consistently failed to impose their control over the country. Libya faces complex tribal, regional and ideological pattern, which the Gaddafi’s government, which was overthrown as a result of the Western in intervention, had held together for forty years. Now weapons of all kinds are easily available for militant groups. As a result, the entire Maghreb-Sahel region is vulnerable to cross-border militancy emanating from the Libyan uncontrolled warehouses. With little almost no control over the vast and porous desert borders, Libya is now a springboard for terrorist operations throughout the Middle East, North Africa and beyond, helping militant groups in Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt to organize well-coordinated terrorist activities such as the unprecedented hostage crisis at the Amenas facility in Southern Algeria.
Saudi Arabia poses the most significant threat to Middle East peace and security. Regional wars and sectarian strife in the Middle East are financed and armed by Riyadh. Saudi Arabia remains to be the United States regional favorite son and an old regional ally getting huge quantities of cutting edge weapons from the USA. The tragedy in Syria is an immediate result of US-backed Saudi Arabia’s interference in regional affairs. Iraq is also experiencing a new round of bomb attacks mainly against Shia population while Riyadh tries to create a favorable regional balance in its favor to the detriment of Iran.
The bloodshed that has engulfed Iraq, Lebanon and Syria in the past two weeks exposes the abrupt exacerbation of region’s sectarian hatreds. Sunni Muslims from Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere have joined the rebels, many fighting alongside affiliates of Al Qaeda. And Shiites from Bahrain, Lebanon, Yemen and even Africa are fighting with pro-government militias, fearing that a defeat for Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, would endanger the Shiite brethren everywhere.
This a perfect breeding ground for fanatical Islamists flourishing in both Iraq and Syria under the banner of Al Qaeda. The drumbeat of violence in recent weeks threatens to bring back the worst of the Iraqi civil war that the United States touched off with an invasion and then spent billions of dollars and thousands of human lives to overcome.
US responds to crisis
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry promised support for Iraq's government, but emphatically rejected any possibility that the U.S. would send troops back into the country, saying of the Baghdad government «this is their fight.» Speaking as he left Jerusalem for Jordan and Saudi Arabia on January 5 to discuss his effort to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Kerry said, «We will stand with the government of Iraq and with others who will push back against their efforts to destabilize… We are going to do everything that is possible. I will not go into the details». Kerry then added, «We are not contemplating putting boots on the ground». Washington expedited the delivery of 75 air-to-surface Hellfire missiles and drones to the Iraqi air force in December. Several of the missiles reportedly have already been used against ISIL positions. The White House said additional surveillance drones would be delivered within weeks and more Hellfire missiles sent in the next few months. As the violence increased, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the US was working closely with Baghdad to develop a «holistic strategy» to isolate al-Qaeda affiliated groups. He said there had already been some successes but the situation remained «fluid». «We're accelerating our foreign military sales, deliveries, and are looking to provide an additional shipment of Hellfire missiles as early as this spring», he said. «I can add that in addition to those Hellfire missiles through our FMS (Foreign Military Sales) program we will also be providing 10 Scan Eagle surveillance UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) in the upcoming weeks and 48 Raven surveillance UAVs later this year». The State Department issued a statement of its own on January 5 saying it was «concerned by efforts of the terrorist Al Qaeda/Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to assert its authority in Syria as well as Iraq … Their barbarism against civilians of Ramadi and Fallujah and against Iraqi Security Forces is on display for all to see», according to spokeswoman Marie Harf.
Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina slammed the Obama administration January 4, calling recent events in Iraq «as tragic as they were predictable.» «While many Iraqis are responsible for this strategic disaster, the administration cannot escape its share of the blame», the senators said in a joint statement. «When President Obama withdrew all U.S. forces… over the objections of our military leaders and commanders on the ground, many of us predicted that the vacuum would be filled by America's enemies and would emerge as a threat to U.S. national security interests. Sadly, that reality is now clearer than ever».
U.S. forces secured Fallujah – the site of America’s bloodiest confrontation since the Vietnam War – in 2004. Roughly a third of the 4,486 U.S. troops killed in Iraq were lost there. The last U.S. troops left Iraq in 2011.
Mistakes committed, fallout is grave and ominous
In 2002 Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the United States against unilateral military action against Iraq saying such an action could only come after United Nations Security Council. Back then he explained that the situation in Iraq was different from that of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Only international support could allow American action against Saddam Hussein to take place. The warning fell on deaf ears; the consequences of US-committed folly have been eerie. Common Americans paid a heavy price. Last year was Iraq’s deadliest in five years. In 2013, fighting and bomb blasts claimed the lives of 7,818 civilians and 1,050 members of the security forces. In December alone nearly a thousand people were killed. As the events in Anbar province prove, 2014 has started amidst heavy fighting between government troops and Sunni militants…
The year 2013 has distinctively been a blessing for Islamist parties and fundamentalist Islamic governments throughout the Middle East and the world while the US and the West in general continue with their policies of rendering support to radicals in Syria and other places.
«The Iraqi people are paying the terrible price for more than a decade of US imperialism’s predatory wars and colonial-style aggression. The eight-year American occupation claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, while imposing a political system that utilized sectarianism as a means of dividing and conquering the country’s population. The Maliki regime is the product of that system», Bill van Auken writes in World Socialist website. (4) He continues, «Now, the US-instigated sectarian civil war in neighboring Syria has provided a new and powerful impulse for civil war in Iraq itself, with Washington’s allies, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf monarchies, providing material aid to Sunni Islamist fighters on both sides of the border».
(1) Bill Van Auken is a US politician and activist for the Socialist Equality Party. He was a presidential candidate in the US presidential election of 2004. He came in 15th for the popular vote. In 2006 Van Auken ran for the United States Senate seat held by Hillary Clinton. He finished in fifth place. In the US presidential election, 2008, he was the vice presidential nominee of the same party. Now Van Auken is a full time reporter for the World Socialist Web Site.