Heavy fighting rages in Iraq's Anbar
Men gather for the funeral of a person killed in fighting with Iraqi forces in the Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, on December 31, 2013. [AFP]
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Iraqi police, together with armed tribesman, Friday succeeded in reclaiming control of a police station in the Sunni area of one of Anbar’s largest cities, Fallujah, as clashes renewed with al-Qaeda militants, Al Arabiya’s correspondent reported.
However, Agence France-Presse reported that the militants advanced Friday into new areas of one major Anbar city and held part of another.
Parts of Ramadi and Fallujah, west of Baghdad, have been held by militants for days, harkening back to the years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion when both cities in Anbar province were insurgent strongholds.
On Thursday, Iraqi security forces and tribesmen fought against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to curb their activities in some areas of Fallujah and the city of Ramadi.
Pictures, circulated on social media, showed police vehicles carrying soldiers and tribesmen in Ramadi after the reportedly ousted ISIL fighters from the city, and reopened police stations there.
On Wednesday, the Islamist militants stormed police stations in several cities in Anbar, seizing weapon caches and freeing prisoners.
On Thursday, one of ISIL’s prominent figures, Shakir Wahib, was killed by a sniper from the Iraqi anti-terrorism forces. The Iraqi forces also killed Abu Hassan al-Dighirdash, ISIL’s preacher, in the northern province of Mosul.
Ahmed Abu Risha, head of the Awakening National Council – a coalition of tribesmen in Anbar - said “there is an open war against ISIL,” and added that the tribes formed a bloc against the al-Qaeda group with the help of local police.
The awakening movement was formed in 2005 to fight against al-Qaeda linked extremists. However, Baghdad’s failure to recruit the awakening movement’s fighters into the formal army and the exacerbation of the conflict in Syria have encouraged al-Qaeda to reemerge in the strategically important Anbar province that connects Iraq to Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
But not all tribal sheikhs have a similar view.
In an interview with Al Arabiya News Channel, Ali al-Hatim, one of the sheikhs in Anbar, asked “if the Iraqi army is surrounding Anbar, how did ISIL enter the province?”
Hatim urged Baghdad to fully withdraw its forces, saying Anbar “will be stable and clear within two hours” if the army retreats.
“There are only problems in the city where the government forces are present, and not near our areas,” he added.
He said that Anbar’s police and the tribes shouldn’t be embroiled in the conflict, or this could lead to a scenario similar what is happening in Syria.
Some observers mull that local tribes are divided on the presence of ISIL in Anbar, with some supposedly supporting the extremist elements operating in the area.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hailed on Thursday the tribes and urged them to continue their fight against the jihadist groups.
People and tribes in Anbar have expressed anger at the government for what they claim is the marginalization of Sunnis in the country and the arrest of “innocent” civilians, including women, under the suspicion of terrorism.
Sunni anger at the government’s crushing of a protest movement has worsened Iraq’s already deep rooted sectarian tensions. A sit-in dismantled on Monday in Anbar has been seen as an thorn in Maliki's side since it was set up to protest against perceived Sunni marginalization a year ago.
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