Recent attacks in Iraq are a sign of resurgence of Sunni militants against the U.S. backed Shiite government which bodes ill for American interests in the region. According to latest reports, pro-Al-Qaeda Sunni militants have taken control of two important cities in the Anbar province in Iraq. The two cities that have been seized by the Sunni militants are Fallujah and Ramadi. It is to be noted that Anbar province in Iraq, is a Sunni Muslim stronghold, in a Shiite majority country. The recent attacks were carried out by the Sunni militants against police stations and military installations. The government retaliated with rockets and helicopter gunships.
During the Bush administration,when American forces occupied Iraq, it was Anbar province which was the main base of the Sunni militants. The American forces were able to root out these Sunni militants but after 2011 withdrawal of the American forces, the Sunni militants have been successful in gaining foothold in this province, once again. In this pro-2011 conflict over 5,000 American soldiers died while around 51,000 were wounded.
The activities of the pro-Al-Qaeda Sunni militants were kept in check with the help of pro-Nuri Al-Maliki’s Shiite government local moderate Sunni chieftains. The local chieftains were able to uproot the Sunni militants with the help of the American forces. The matters are completely different now and these chieftains are not able to stop the Sunni militants from gaining control of this province as their own existence is at stake. In such a case, they have opted to join forces with these resurgent pro-Al-Qaeda Sunni militants. These Sunni militants are basically backed by Saudi Arabia, the major Sunni power in the region.
Another factor that has led to the resurgence of these Sunni militants is the ongoing 3-years-old civil war in neighboring Syria. The Shiite government of Bashaar Al-Assad is also fighting Sunni rebels that have come to Syria from all over the world. Iran, the major Shiite power in the region is helping the Assad government in this fight; while Saudi Arabia is backing the predominantly Sunni rebels.
The Obama administration is also giving military assistance to the government of Nuri Al-Maliki besides the moral diplomatic support. The defense analysts, however, are of the view that instead of giving American military equipment to the Iraqis, America should arm them with Russian equipment with which they are familiar. In the other case, American military personnel should be deployed in Iraq, but this proposal has little public or political support in America.
Iraq after Saudi Arabia is the second largest producer of oil in the world. The Sunni militants are not, as yet, a threat to Iraqi oil installations, but if their activities are not checked in time, they well may take control of these strategic installations, as well. Most defense analysts are of the view that America should pressurize Saudi Arabia not to meddle in the internal affairs of Iraq. Until any new development takes place, the present ground reality is that there is a major resurgence of pro-Al-Qaeda Sunni militants in Iraq which bodes ill for U.S. strategic interests in the Middle East.
By Iftikhar Tariq Khanzada