Militant members of Al-Qaeda in several cities in Western Iraq initiated a litany of bold attacks against law enforcement headquarters. They engaged in violent battles with government military forces on Thursday as tension between Sunnis and Shiites continued to escalate.
Members of Al-Qaeda, made bold by their significant role in the attempt to overthrow the Syrian government, have been capitalizing on a feeling of being alienated among the Sunni minority that lives in Iraq. Former United States (US) Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, called it a “perfect storm,” saying it has been a long time in the making.
The Al-Qaeda attacks in western Iraq were initiated partly because of recent occurrences that have angered the Sunnis and led to implications that the government rule of Nouri al-Maliki has been uneven and unfair in the handling of political enemies. Another former US Ambassador to Iraq, James Jeffrey, says that Maliki’s actions have caused a large segment of the Sunni population to feel like outcasts.
Government forces last week arrested an important member of the Sunni population. In doing so, they caused a firefight that killed the individual’s brother as well as some bodyguards. As a result, a Sunni camp in Ramadi was taken apart by security forces. When the Sunni voiced concerns over this, the government agreed to remove its forces from Anbar cities earlier in the week. Al-Quaeda forces, however, showed up as soon as the withdrawal was complete.
The violence broke out in the middle of many tribal leaders trying to flesh out a compromise with Maliki and his administration. A negotiated settlement was well within reach according to some political experts. The same sources say that it is a mystery why Maliki chose this moment to take on the protesters. Most Iraqi watchers believe that Maliki may have been wanting to show some political muscle since national elections are coming up in April.
Fallujah and Ramadi are prominent cities in a Sunni region known as Anbar. This is an area that has played an important role in molding the history of Iraq. After US forces invaded Iraq in 2003, the area became the main focus of the Sunni rebellion that fought the Allied forces. Fallujah became symbolic for resistance to the US presence until militants were driven out from the city by a US-led offensive.
Ramadi tribal leader, backed by the US military, led a successful rebellion against Al-Qaeda in 2006 and 2007. This helped to change the circumstances of the war in Iraq. Now, Anbar tribal leaders remain suspicious of Al-Qaeda and have continually pressed local law enforcement to go against the sect.
Analysts, however, are quick to point out that it was the American presence in 2006 and 2007 that bolstered the confidence of the Sunni. The Sunni leaders at the time saw the US as allies that would be their protection against the Shiite government as well as Al-Qaeda. There is a fear now that the Sunnis may turn to Al-Qaeda if they think it is their only protection against a hostile government.
The civil war in Syria has only served to embolden Al-Qaeda. Many from other countries came there to fight for the Al-Qaeda sect and analysts believe this may initiate a movement of some of those foreigners coming over to western Iraq after seeing this latest attack.
By Rick Hope
Times of India