After Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki ordered the withdrawal of troops from towns and cities in Anbar province, Al-Qaeda affiliated militants swooped into Anbar Province, taking over the city of Fallujah. In the ensuing chaos the militants freed dozens of prisoners and seized a cache of weapons from local armories. Some of the equipment stolen include U.S. Marine military equipment given to the Fallujah police.
The takeover of Fallujah comes after Sunni militants have ramped up attacks all across the country, with Shia groups being the targets of the political backlash. Sunni citizens say they have been marginalized under the new Shia run government, adding fuel to the fire of a sectarian crisis in Iraq.
Shortly after taking the city, militants hoisted black flags on top of buildings, using loudspeakers inside mosques, normally used for daily prayers, as a means to transmit a call to action for a “peaceful takeover” of Iraq.
Witnesses in the area say militants showed up on Tuesday in the back of pick up trucks, carrying large amounts of ammo and manpower to take over the city following Prime Minister Maliki’s orders.
In a televised statement on Iraqiya state television, Prime Minister Maliki vowed that his government would not “back down” until all “terrorist groups” were ended.
The latest lapse in security puts observers on edge, putting front and center the issue of Iraq’s stability in the face of an escalating sectarian conflict.
The U.S. State Department released a statement saying that they would do anything in their power to help Iraqi forces “defeat our common enemy”.
Tribal leaders in Fallujah are being asked by Iraqi officials and U.S. forces to help fight back against the insurgency, with some signing on to the campaign. Tribesmen who oppose al-Qaeda have joined Iraqi troops in surrounding Fallujah and leading an attack on Friday against the militants. Attacking with artillery, militant positions outside Fallujah were bombarded by the joined forces.
Anbar Province is heavily populated by Sunnis and was the heartland of the Sunni uprising against the American led invasion of 2003. Following the toppling of Sadaam’s government, Sunni forces have waged countless attacks and fronts from the province.
Fallujah city is infamous for the execution and public hanging of four American security contractors back in 2004. Their burnt bodies were left hanging from a bridge for days.
The U.S. State Department says it is concerned that the individuals responsible for the hostile takeover include those looking to establish their “authority in Syria, as well as Iraq,”
The spillover from the conflict in Syria has only increased the violence, as rival gangs are looking to assert their dominance over the region.
President Barack Obama is looking for ways to contain the spillover from the Syrian conflict without putting more troops on the ground. Invading Syria is not an option for the administration say U.S. officials following the chemical weapons agreement of 2013.
The United Nations released a report saying that 7,818 civilians, as well as 1,050 security forces were killed in Iraq in 2013, making it one of the highest death tolls in years.
by John Amaruso