Saturday, January 11, 2014

141.7 - Update: Iraq

Update: Iraq

Reference to tribal fighters brings us to our third update: Iraq.

Since last week, it's become clear that the main forces fighting the Iraqi government in the province of Anbar are from an Islamist group known both as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant - ISIS or ISIL. The media has taken to referring to - I'll call them - ISIS as "affiliated with" or "connected to" al-Qaeda, which is true only in the sense that it's a self-description by ISIS, one just symbolic since it's clear the group doesn't take orders from Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda.

Anyway, in the wake the anger sparked by Iraqi President Nouri al-Makiki's ham-fisted arrest of a Sunni lawmaker and break-up of a nonviolent protest camp ISIS seized and held the centers of the cities of Falluja, Ramadi and Khalidiya.

However, a joint operation by Iraqi troops and local police pushed ISIS out of Khalidiya and much of Falluja, although parts of the latter city and Ramadi remain in ISIS hands.

And now, significantly, Iraq's military and some Sunni tribal leaders have struck a deal under which government forces will withdraw to the fringes of Anbar while Sunni tribal forces and police undertake the job of driving ISIS out of the cities. The deal is significant first, because it removes government forces, always suspect in mostly-Sunni Anbar because the government is controlled by Shiites, second, it politically and ethically isolates ISIS, who are now seen not as fighting the government but as fighting fellow Sunnis, and, third and most importantly, it means that the risk of outbreak of outright civil war which I feared could come has been cut dramatically.

This doesn't change the fact that there is a humanitarian crisis developing in Anbar. Over 250 people have been killed, the worst fighting in years, at least 13,000 families have fled Falluja alone, and at least 5,000 have fled the province altogether, while there are fears that the continued fighting will prevent refreshing of stocks of food, water, and medicine, which are beginning to run out in areas.

Sometimes the only good news is that it's not as bad as it might have been - but sometimes that's all you get so you take it.


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