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News, January 2014
US-Backed Iraqi Government of Maliki Threatens to Attack City of Fallouja, a Fallout of the Syrian Civil War
January 8, 2014
Iraq PM Maliki calls on Fallujah to expel Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents
Russia Today TV, January 07, 2014, 02:20
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki urged those in Fallujah Monday to help expel Al-Qaeda-linked militants in the city ahead of a military offensive government officials say could occur within days. Islamic insurgents seized the city in recent days.
Maliki, whose Shiite-led government has at best tenuous influence in the majority Sunni city of Fallujah, said via a statement on state television that tribal leaders should lead the effort to force fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from the town.
"The prime minister appeals to the tribes and people of Fallujah to expel the terrorists from the city in order to spare themselves the risk of armed clashes," read the statement, according to Reuters.
Insurgents took control of much of the city following a bloody battle with security forces in which more than 100 people were killed, AFP reported. Some of the city is also controlled by Sunni anti-government tribal militias, according to NPR.
Government troops, with help from the local allied tribesmen, carried out an assault in Fallujah, firing heavy artillery rounds at a location where up to 150 ISIL fighters were positioned, an anonymous military official told AP, adding that troops also advanced into the city of Ramadi.
A provincial official said Iraqi forces had reclaimed Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, on Monday, pushing fighters east where air raids would be used to draw them out of hiding places, he told Reuters.
"The air force will end this battle in the next few hours," said Falih al-Essawi, of Anbar. He said government workers and students in Ramadi were told to return to work and school on Tuesday.
Tribal leaders in Fallujah, 25 miles west of Baghdad’s main airport, said clerics and community actors were to meet to discuss methods of persuading ISIL fighters to exit and not provoke further violence.
Iraq has launched multiple airstrikes against fighters in the past week, though Maliki has agreed to momentarily hold on the use of force as local leaders attempt to reach a more peaceful resolution, security officials told Reuters.
"No specific deadline was determined, but it will not be open-ended," a special forces officer said of the impending attack.
"We are not prepared to wait too long. We're talking about a matter of days only. More time means more strength for terrorists.”
Maliki has ordered his army, now surrounding Fallujah, to spare residential areas during the upcoming offensive.
Iraqi soldiers stand along a road close to their vehicle in the area of Ein Tamer which leads west out of the central Iraqi Shiite Muslim shrine city of Karbala towards the mainly Sunni Muslim city of Fallujah, in the bordering Anbar province, on January 6, 2014. (AFP Photo)
From Syria to Iraq
ISIL’s move into Anbar province, in central Iraq, was the first time the Sunni fighters had taken and held parts of the province’s major towns along the Euphrates River.
ISIL is active in neighboring Syria’s civil war, working with other Sunni Muslim militants - while fighting others - in efforts against President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Sunni brigades fighting in Syria - most supported by Saudi Arabia and allies, as well as western powers like the United States - have battled the government of Assad - an ally of Shiite Iran as well as Russia - for three years in a civil war that has exacerbated sectarian animosities.
Some invading militants have received aid from tribesmen in Fallujah, an area quite hostile to the Shiite government.
Sectarian tensions were enflamed last week, as Iraqi police broke up a Sunni protest in Ramadi, sparking confrontations across Anbar. The area was the heart of the insurgency following the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, which installed Maliki’s Shiite-led government.
Anbar tribes worked with the US to beat back Al-Qaeda militants in the region around 2006. Fallujah, the “City of Mosques,” was subject to two major offensives by US forces against insurgents in 2004. After denying the charge that it used white phosphorus in the city, the US military later recanted and admitted using the chemical weapons.
“This is the worst [Iraq has] been since the American occupation," political analyst Said Arikat told RT in an interview. "It bodes ill for the unity of the government, and it is predicated on pure sectarian lines aided by the Syria conflict. So all the elements make it a very bad situation."
Arikat said the current situation in Anbar province can be explained by a number of issues, including poorly equipped and trained Iraqi security forces, a recent Al-Qaeda-led prison break in Iraq that bolstered militant morale and, not least, the Syrian civil war.
"The border [between Syria and Iraq] is so porous, it is really elastic," he said. "There's been an influx of weapons and money under the guise of aiding the Syria rebels, so that's finding its way to Iraq. All these things come together," including the lackluster Iraqi forces left without American military assistance on the ground, to deteriorate conditions in Anbar.
A Sunni Muslim Iraqi man shakes the hand of a soldier at Ein Tamer as families flee their homes in the city of Fallujah making their way to the central Iraqi Shiite Muslim shrine city of Karbala, on January 6, 2014. (AFP Photo)
The White House said Monday it would hasten delivery of aid to Iraq in its fight against Al-Qaeda. The shipments, to arrive in coming months, will include 100 Hellfire missiles, 10 ScanEagle surveillance drones and, later this year, 48 Raven surveillance drones. Yet the US said Sunday that it would not send troops to Iraq.
Iran has also offered military assistance to help quash the militant uprising.
Al-Qaeda’s resurgent influence in Anbar has again divided the population. Yet despite sectarian differences, locals have offered to help the government reclaim control of the area.
"We are going to have an important meeting this evening and that will include some Al-Qaeda fighters in Fallujah to convince them to leave the city and deprive Maliki of a pretext to push his army inside the city," said one tribal leader, according to Reuters.
"We should make Al-Qaeda fighters understand that their staying in Fallujah will create rivers of blood."
Still, many residents are fleeing the city en masse ahead of the planned offensive. Power outages and food and water shortages are also leading many to exit.
"The situation in Fallujah is getting worse. There are gunmen everywhere," said Doctor Mohammed al-Nuaimi, a resident of the city interviewed by Reuters.
"We can't tell who's a friend and who's an enemy. I lost my elder brother in 2005 - he was killed by the Americans - and now I see same scenario happening. I'm not ready to feel the pain again."
Political analyst Gerald Cellente told RT the United States and its Iraq-invading allies are ultimately to blame for the violence and chaos in not only Iraq, but throughout the Middle East.
“The United States and the Coalition of the Willing have destabilized the entire region," Cellente, publisher of The Trends Journal, told RT. "This isn't just about Iraq. Let us not forget the Libyan 'humanitarian' mission - or better yet, the 'time-limited, scope-limited kinetic action' - started by Sarkozy, Cameron and Obama. So the entire region is being destabilized by the wars the imperialist, colonial powers have waged in that area."
Cellente said local residents' chances of staving off the insurgents are "slim and none."
"We have to understand what the numbers are, depending on whose you look at," he said. "It's estimated that a million Iraqis have been killed since the United States and the Coalition of the Willing invaded. So these people have no will to fight anymore. It's tribal warfare."
U.S. fears grow about Iraq, but response remains limited
By Missy Ryan
WASHINGTON, Tue Jan 7, 2014, 11:08pm EST
The Obama administration is considering expanding its support to Iraqi forces as they fight off a renewed al Qaeda threat, but Washington's ability to significantly increase security assistance to Baghdad will remain limited.
U.S. officials say they are in discussions with the Iraqi government about training its elite forces in a third country, which would allow the United States to provide one modest measure of new assistance against militants in the absence of a troop deal that allows U.S. soldiers to operate within Iraq.
No further details were immediately available about where that might take place or how many troops it might involve.
Reluctance to further empower Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki or put American boots on the ground constrains U.S. support for Iraq as it battles militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an al Qaeda affiliate, in Anbar province, and seeks to reverse a striking surge in violence across the country in the last year.
The United States is sending missiles, surveillance aircraft and other gear that may help Iraqi forces rebuff al Qaeda in the western province, a Sunni Muslim stronghold.
But Washington also wants Maliki, a Shi'ite, to do more to reach out to minority Kurds and Sunnis who accuse him of fanning sectarian tensions.
The conflict in Anbar is the latest in a string of events pitting Maliki against Iraqi Sunnis, many of whom resent the Shi'ite domination that has followed the U.S.-led ouster of Sunni leader Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Colin Kahl, a former senior Pentagon official specializing in the Middle East, said the U.S. military's ability to conduct overt activities in Iraq was extremely limited, but that the Obama administration was likely providing the Iraqi government with intelligence to help them target al Qaeda.
"As we do so, we have to be mindful that we are not empowering Maliki's bad behavior, and we need to be careful not to do anything that makes it look like we are taking sides in a sectarian fight," Kahl said.
Beyond such modest support, and despite growing U.S. fears that the war in Syria is fuelling a regional al Qaeda comeback, U.S. officials say their hands are largely tied in Iraq.
Secretary of State John Kerry made clear last weekend the Obama administration has no appetite for sending U.S. troops back.
"This is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis," he said. "We're not contemplating putting boots on the ground. This is their fight, but we're going to help them in their fight."
And without a Status of Forces Agreement, which provides a legal underpinning for stationing U.S. soldiers overseas, the United States can hardly conduct overt military activities in Iraq.
Maliki, too, would be loathe to be seen inviting back U.S. troops whose presence many Iraqis saw as an occupation force.
Since 2011, when the Obama administration abruptly pulled U.S. soldiers from Iraq after failing to reach a troop deal with Maliki's government, the upheaval of the Arab Spring and the war in Syria have helped push Iraq from the center of U.S. foreign policy discussions.
As the Pentagon seeks to wind down the war in Afghanistan, and Kerry pursues diplomatic deals to address Iran's nuclear ambitions and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, increasing bloodshed in Iraq has not altered that calculus.
The reluctance of the Obama administration - and of Maliki himself - to revisit the years of U.S. military involvement in Iraq has dramatically curtailed U.S. influence there.
Since the departure of U.S. forces in 2011, the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq, attached to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, has become the anchor of U.S. security assistance for Iraq. At least 100 Pentagon employees there oversee military sales to Iraq and advise Iraqi ministries.
But some covert activities can take place. The Iraqi government invited U.S. special forces to return to provide counterterrorism and intelligence support to local forces, according to a report in The New York Times.
Some in the U.S. Congress, including influential lawmakers such as John McCain, warn of Maliki's autocratic tendencies and close ties with Iran. They complain he has continued to allow Iran to send military assistance to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad across Iraqi airspace and has not lived up to promises to protect Iranian dissidents in Iraq.
Ken Pollack, a former White House and intelligence official who was a leading advocate for the 2003 war with Iraq, said the current U.S. focus on the return of al Qaeda, with its possible intent to strike the West, overlooked the true sectarian and political roots of recent conflict in Iraq.
"Sending weapons isn't going to fix the problem," he said. "It's going to force the Maliki government to rely on force."
Pollack and others have urged the administration to condition security assistance on conciliatory steps by Maliki, perhaps by bringing in minority leaders into his government.
After Maliki made a plea for increased military sales in a visit to Washington in November, the administration has been working to speed up delivery of military equipment, including Hellfire missiles and surveillance aircraft.
An Iraqi request for Apache attack helicopters has not yet moved forward, largely because of congressional concerns. Congress has approved the sale of F-16 fighters to Iraq, but they are not expected to be delivered until fall.
(Reporting By Missy Ryan; Editing by Alistair Bell and Ken Wills)
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