Fallujah has fallen from Iraqi control in the eastern province of Anbar and the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is promising to wipe out “all terrorist groups” in the province.
Fallujah, Iraq’s second largest city, fell as Al-Qaeda connected militants gained control of the town on Friday as fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fought in the streets massacring women and children who didn’t leave quickly enough.
Reports of who is controlling what part of the city are often contradictory.
The Anbar Chief of Police, Hadi Razeij, told the press that the center of the city had completely been taken over by the ISIL fighters, while the perimeter is under control by the police force.
Videos posted online show ISIL fighters controlling the main highway to Baghdad, while witnesses inside the town have told Reuters that the ISIL has taken over the northern and northeastern quadrants of the city.
Al Jazeera’s Iraqi correspondent, Imran Khan, has said the Iraqi army is staged on the outskirts of the town while they attempt to negotiate with tribal leaders inside the city. Cooperation from the city’s leaders is needed in order for the army to go in and fight the insurgents.
More than 100 were killed on Friday during the fighting in Fallujah, one of the highest death tolls since violence sparked on Monday when Iraqi police raided a Sunni protest camp.
Fallujah was the scene of an American massacre in April 2003 when a crowd ignored curfew orders set by the Americans. A secondary school had been commandeered by the American military as a headquarters and the crowd gathered, demanding its reopening as a school.
Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne went to the roof of the building and fired on the crowd, resulting in 17 dead and over 70 wounded. The events leading up to the massacre are in dispute, with the American military claiming they were taking gunfire from the crowd and the Iraqis conceding that rocks were thrown at the rooftop troops. A protest, 48 hours later, was also was fired on by US troops and two more Iraqis were killed.
In March 2004, Iraqi insurgents in the city ambushed a convoy and took four armed contractors hostage. The contractors were beaten and set on fire before their corpses were dragged to a bridge crossing the Euphrates River. Photographs were released to news agencies worldwide and caused outrage in the US, which led to a bigger push by the US military to take the city.
The American military was accused of using white phosphorus against individuals and mobs in Fallujah and denied it, but later retracted the denial. An admission to using the incendiary as an offense weapon was made and reports have since alleged American war crimes, human rights abuses and massacres by US personnel, a viewpoint shown in the 2005 documentary, Fallujah, The Hidden Massacre.
US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said in response to the news, “Reports that Al-Qaeda fighters have taken over Fallujah…are as tragic as they were predictable.” The statement went on to point blame at the Obama administration, saying, “When President Obama withdrew US forces from Iraq …, 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 US….. Sadly, that reality is now clearer than ever.”
Prashant Rao, Baghdad Bureau Chief for AFP, tweeted about the confusion surrounding the fighting in Fallujah. “I challenge anyone claiming that he knows what’s happening in Ramade and Fallujah. Even those involved don’t know…”
By Jerry Nelson