FALLUJAH, IRAQ- An al-Qaeda linked militia group has taken control of the city of Fallujah in the western province of Anbar. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is a Sunni Muslim group that claims ties to al-Qaeda that has roots in Iraq, but crosses the border into Syria. The ISIS is fighting for an Islamic state that links areas of both countries that are controlled by al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Fallujah was a city that American forces fought so hard to take control of in 2004, and now, almost ten years later, the Iraqi government is scrambling to find a way to take it back.
Anbar, the largest province in Iraq, shares a border with Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. Anbar is mostly made up of Sunni tribes, which makes the area very hard for the Shia-run government to control. Ideological differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims make reaching peaceful agreements difficult. This was a contributing factor to the problems American troops faced when trying to take over in 2004, and why Saddam Hussein had such a problem controlling the area when he was president. Even though the ISIS has taken the city, the fighting and violence is beginning.
The Iraqi government retained control of Fallujah and other areas that are often subject to sectarian violence throughout the US occupation, but as the American forces began to leave, a shift in power was slowing taking place. In an interview with NPR, independent journalist Jane Arraf who covers events in Iraq said, “One of the things that has happened while we haven’t really been paying attention in the West to Iraq in the past year is that the country has become essentially partitioned along sectarian lines.”
After years of suppression coming from the Iraqi government, and the slow take over of al-Qaeda who was in direct opposition of the government, the people of Anbar had to make the hard choice of choosing a side. Many felt abandoned by the government or that the government did not have their interests in mind, so some sided with al-Qaeda. Other tribes sided with the US forces. When the US left, al-Qaeda and other groups affiliated with the organization such as the ISIS filled the power vacuum and many of the tribes who had turned against al-Qaeda were killed.
The Iraq government responded with mass arrests which created more hostility with the disenfranchised citizens of Anbar. Jane Arraf also said that it is essentially impossible for the army to get in there to take back Fallujah and other parts of the province. While many tribes do not support al-Qaeda, they also do not trust the Iraqi government creating a stagnant situation in the desert province. As a result of all the political upheaval and government interference, Anbar’s poverty situation worsened adding more stress to citizens who do not feel like that have anyone to help them. As the violence continues to segue towards civil war, Fallujah and cities like it will continue to slide backward into poverty.
– Colleen Eckvahl