The conflict continues in Iraq, with Sunni extremist group, ISIL, still in control of Fallujah. However, the face off between the Shia led government and various Sunni tribal and religious groups is prevalent throughout the country. In the western province of Anbar, a government helicopter was shot down with all four crew members killed. The town of Karma was briefly controlled by Sunni insurgent fighters, in a skirmish that has claimed 25 lives in the past few days. The fighting in Karma is not an isolated incident. In the last year several towns have been claimed by Sunni groups and dozens of fighters stand ready to join raiding parties on government security forces.
Attacks are often preceded by bombings, or mortar barrages, against Police and Security Service bases, followed by a local invasion by large groups of insurgents. Although these gains are often temporary, the fighters stay long enough to film propaganda videos and then fade away, a significant response has to be mounted each time by the government to remove them. These attacks are common, and last year was the deadliest year in Iraq since 2008 when US troops were still present there. Almost 9,000 Iraqis died during 2013. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), who although being islamic fascists, have been angrily denounced by the remaining al Qaeda leadership, remain the most powerful group. They frequently lead attacks and their flags and propaganda recordings, are widely experienced during each raid. The ISIL maintain a presence, not only in Iraq, but even in the civil war in Syria.
Many of these attacks are seen as an attempt to spread out the security forces of the Iraqi government, to counter their attempts to dislodge the ISIL and other Sunni groups from Fallujah. The Iraqi government forces are based in Anbar’s capital city, Ramadi, and have suffered attacks from suicide bombers in recent weeks. However, the government forces are only partially succeeding at stamping out the ISIL’s diversionary attacks, and at least three villages remain in militant hands in Northern Iraq, despite efforts to clear them out.
The aim of ISIL is to create an Islamic emirate on strictly sectarian lines throughout the middle east. They are succeeding in undermining the Iraqi government’s attempts to hold elections in two months time. The Iraqi government is attempting to distribute voter ID cards so that relatively free and fair elections can take place, but ISIL is not only successfully preventing this distribution, but polling in Fallujah is likely to be impossible at the time of the election.
Across Iraq 13 of 18 provinces have received their voter ID cards, which have been supplied by a Spanish company that uses the cards and biometric measurements to try and prevent voter fraud. With almost 30% of voters currently unable to vote with only two months left before the election, the legitimacy of any future government may be questionable, and this will likely fuel the conflict in Western Iraq, especially as current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is hoping for a third term in office.
A 72-hour truce has been announced in Fallujah, but ISIL are still in control there, and in other parts of Iraq.
By Andrew Willig