Bloodshed in western Iraq following anti-terrorist operation

A roadblock on the road to Fallujah. Screengrab from this video
 
The dismantling of a camp suspected of being an al Qaeda hideout to the west of Baghdad has led to a series of religious clashes, as well as a political crisis. In this region, where the population is majority Sunni, this intervention was perceived as discriminatory against this community and, according to our Observer, actually helped further the terrorists’ agenda.
 
This camp started as a sit-in organised by the local Sunni population against the numerous recent anti-terrorist operations carried out by the government. Just a few days before it was dismantled, Iraqi soldiers had been ambushed in the area. Five officers and ten soldiers were killed. Iraq’s prime minister promised that he would crack down on criminal gangs with “an iron fist”.
 
On Monday, a local police destroyed the Sunni protesters’ tents at the camp that authorities called an “al Qaeda den”. This allowed them to reopen a major road stretching from Baghdad to the west, where Iraq shares a border with Syria, which the camp had been blocking. According to the national public television channel, this operation took place following an agreement between the security forces, religious leaders, and tribal leaders.
 
A roadblock on the road to Fallujah. Video posted on this Facebook page
 
Residents in two cities along this road denounced the operation, as well as the arrest of a Sunni member of parliament who had visited the camp on several occasions. In Ramadi, which is located near the camp’s former site, Sunni imams called on the faithful to “go wage a holy war”. Armed men took over several of the city’s streets, and exchanged fire with Iraqi soldiers. Soon after, in Fallujah, a city located in between Baghdad and Ramadi, armed men attacked soldiers that were patrolling the road. On Monday, ten people were killed; on Tuesday, three armed men and an Iraqi army sniper died in the clashes.
 
Photo posted on the
Facebook page of a Fallujah resident.
Contributors

"It's a vicious cycle that only makes Al Qaeda more popular"

Ali Al-Mousawi works in Baghdad for the Iraqi TV station Al Baghdadia.
 
Our country is at war. The authorities are carrying out numerous attacks against Sunni terrorists implanted in the region. In this context, there have been abuses, for example arrests based solely on anonymous denunciations; baseless detentions and home searches; etc.
 
Little by little, members of al Qaeda have joined civilian protesters’ ranks, which is why the camp was dismantled. But what needs to be understood is that there are armed groups everywhere in Iraq. In Shiite cities, there are armed Shiite groups, and in Sunni cities, there’s al Qaeda. But since al Qaeda targets the government [which is dominated by Shiites] and civilians, the government fights back.
 
It’s a vicious circle: since al Qaeda is present in Al Anbar province, the Iraqi army keeps carrying out attacks there, and each time, the local population gets angrier and angrier. And al Qaeda’s popularity grows. They create divisions between the federal government and local leaders. But they’re not the only ones to manipulate the population like this: Sunni members of parliament and the Shiite government also use this conflict to garner votes.
 
 
"Another goal is to reinforce security on the border with Syria"
 
Another goal of this operation was to take back control of the road, and thereby reinforce security on the border with Syria, which is really easy to cross at the moment. Al Qaeda fighters go from one country to the other as they please.
 
Generally, local residents side with their tribal chiefs. But the chiefs are divided: some support the government’s actions, because they themselves have been victims of al Qaeda. Others meanwhile support the terrorists, because their sons are fighting with al Qaeda, because they are against military operations in the region, or simply for religious reasons.
 
 
As a sign of protest against the camp’s dismantlement, 44 members of parliament, out of a total of 325, announced that they wished to resign. They argued that the government, which is made up for the majority of Shiites, was using anti-terrorism laws to silence Sunni protesters.
 
According to the United Nations, more than 8,000 people were killed in Iraq just in 2013 due to interfaith violence.

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