(by Raf Sanchez, London’s Daily Telegraph) WASHINGTON – The White House is under growing pressure to shore up the Iraqi government as al-Qaeda fighters swarmed into the power vacuum left behind by the withdrawal of US forces two years ago.
In the two weeks President Obama has been on vacation in Hawaii, Sunni tribesmen and their al-Qaeda allies have seized control of most of the western province of Anbar and driven back Iraqi forces. (see “Background” below the questions for more info on Sunni vs. Shi’a muslims)
By Sunday the militants appeared to be fully in control of the city of Fallujah – the scene of America’s heaviest losses during the eight year war – and Republicans accused the White House of presiding over a “strategic disaster” in the Middle East. [Almost one-third of the 4,486 U.S. troops killed in Iraq died in Anbar fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq, nearly 100 of them in the November 2004 battle for control of Fallujah, the site of America’s bloodiest confrontation since the Vietnam War.]
“The thousands of brave Americans who fought, shed their blood, and lost their friends to bring peace to Fallujah and Iraq are now left to wonder whether these sacrifices were in vain,” said Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham.
They criticized Mr. Obama’s decision to withdraw all US troops in December 2011 instead of leaving behind a residual force, saying this week’s militants advances were “as tragic as they were predictable.”
Mr. Obama has long said that ending the deeply unpopular Iraq war was one of his key foreign policy successes and US public opinion overwhelmingly supported the withdrawal.
But images of al-Qaeda’s black flag flying in Fallujah, where more than 1,300 US troops were killed during the eight-year war, threatened undermine the White House narrative of success.
Secretary of State John Kerry said there was no chance of US ground troops returning to Iraq but did not rule out the possibility that American drones could be deployed to support the Iraqi government’s counter-offensive.
“We’re not contemplating putting boots on the ground,” Secretary Kerry said during a visit to Jerusalem. “This is their fight, but we’re going to help them in their fight.”
Nearly 9,000 people were killed in Iraq during 2013, in the bloodiest year of sectarian violence since 2008. Alarmed at the bloodshed, the US began to quietly step up its supply of Hellfire missiles to Iraq’s fledgling air force and will deliver basic reconnaissance drones later this year.
Yet the increased military assistance, combined with intelligence support from the CIA, has not been enough to stop a resurgent al-Qaeda in western Iraq.
Their fighters now control large swathes of territory in both Iraq and Syria, operating under the title of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Iraq’s military staged a major offensive on Sunday aimed at retaking Fallujah and driving ISIL forces out of nearby Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province.
Lt Gen. Rasheed Fleih, head of the Anbar military command, predicted that his troops, combined with Sunni tribes still loyal to the Shia-led government in Baghdad, would take back the cities within “two to three days.”
Military aircraft struck Ramadai on Sunday and government officials say 25 militants were killed in the operation. Their numbers could not be verified.
Meanwhile, a series of car bombs struck Baghdad, killing at least 20 people.
US forces were completely withdrawn from Iraq after President Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki failed to reached an agreement on the legal status of American troops.
The US has always demanded that its forces be given immunity from local laws, promising that it would punish wrongdoers in its own military courts.
The Obama administration is now in the midst of negotiating a similar agreement with Afghanistan, which would govern the status of US troops who stay behind after international forces withdraw at the end of 2014.
Yet in frustration with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, the US has hinted that it could repeat its Iraq decision and withdraw all troops, leaving Afghanistan’s security forces to face the Taliban alone.
Senators McCain and Graham, the Republican senators, argued against the so-called “zero option” saying the US “must apply the painful lessons of Iraq in Afghanistan.”
“Talk of a ‘zero option’ must be dismissed as the surest way to squander all of our hard-won gains, thereby allowing Afghanistan to re-emerge as a safe haven for al-Qaeda and its terrorist allies,” they said.
Reprinted here for educational purposes only. From a Telegraph news report, with excerpts added from the Daily Mail article. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from the Daily Telegraph.
1. Name the two cities in Iraq’s western Anbar province that have been taken over by al-Qaeda.
2. What is the significance of Fallujah to our U.S. Marines (and to all Americans)?
3. a) When did President Obama withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq?
b) How did the American public view this foreign policy move?
4. What action has Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. might take in response to al-Qaeda take-over in Anbar province?
5. How does the head of the Anbar military command view the situation in Anbar?
6. Republican Senators McCain and Graham criticized President Obama’s decision to withdraw all US troops two years ago instead of leaving behind a residual force, saying this week’s al-Qaeda advances were “as tragic as they were predictable.” Others have blamed the President’s foreign policy as well for the current situation in Anbar. Ask a parent what he/she thinks about this assertion.
7. Senators McCain and Graham also said: the “thousands of brave Americans who fought, shed their blood, and lost their friends to bring peace to Fallujah and Iraq are now left to wonder whether these sacrifices were in vain.” What do you think?
The Washington Post reports:
The current violence evolved from a year-long, largely peaceful Sunni revolt against Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government that drew inspiration from the Arab Spring demonstrations elsewhere in the region. But it was rooted in the sectarian disputes left unresolved when U.S. troops withdrew and inflamed by the escalating conflict in neighboring Syria.
Those disputes include the exclusion of Sunnis from important decision-making positions in government and abuses committed against Sunnis in Iraq’s notoriously inequitable judicial system.
When Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki dispatched the Iraqi army to quell a protest in Ramadi this week, local tribes fought back. Maliki ordered the troops to withdraw, creating an opportunity for al-Qaeda fighters to surge into towns from their desert strongholds and triggering battles across the province.
Though some tribes have turned against the al-Qaeda-affiliated militants, others have not, said [an analyst in Jordan]. “Basically, no one is in control,” he said. “The situation was really horrible anyway, and the operation against Ramadi made it worse.”
…Whether or how the Iraqi security forces will be able to regain the initiative is unclear. ISIS [al-Qaeda] fighters have steadily asserted their control over the province’s desert regions for months… They [appear stronger] than the tribal fighters drawn into the fray over the past week, and the Iraqi security forces lack the equipment and technology that enabled U.S. troops to suppress the al-Qaeda challenge.
In the past year, al-Qaeda has bounced back, launching a vicious campaign of bombings that killed more than 8,000 people in 2013, according to the United Nations. Sectarian tensions between Iraq’s Sunnis and the Shiite-led government have been further inflamed by the war in Syria, where the majority Sunni population has been engaged in a nearly three-year-old struggle to dislodge President Bashar al-Assad, a member of the Shiite Alawite minority. …
Most residents of Fallujah do not support the al-Qaeda fighters, a local journalist there said, but they also lack the means to oppose them, and they also oppose the Iraqi government.
“It is sad, because we are going back to the days of the past,” he said. “Everyone is remembering the battles of 2004 when the Marines came in, and now we are revisiting history.”
The Second Battle of Fallujah – code-named Operation Phantom Fury – was a joint American, Iraqi, and British offensive in November and December 2004, considered the highest point of conflict in Fallujah during the Iraq War. It was led by the U.S. Marine Corps against the Iraqi insurgency stronghold in the city of Fallujah and was authorized by the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Interim Government. The U.S. military called it “some of the heaviest urban combat U.S. Marines have been involved in since the Battle of Huế City in Vietnam in 1968.”
This operation was the second major operation in Fallujah. Earlier, in April 2004, coalition forces fought the First Battle of Fallujah in order to capture or kill insurgent elements considered responsible for the deaths of a Blackwater Security team. When coalition forces (mostly U.S. Marines) fought into the center of the city, the Iraqi government requested that the city’s control be transferred to an Iraqi-run local security force, which then began stockpiling weapons and building complex defenses across the city through mid-2004. The second battle was the bloodiest battle of the entire Iraq War, and is notable for being the first major engagement of the Iraq War fought solely against insurgents rather than the forces of the former Ba’athist Iraqi government, which was deposed in 2003.
(The First Battle of Fallujah, also known as Operation Vigilant Resolve, was an attempt by the U.S. military to capture the city of Fallujah in April 2004. The chief catalyst for the operation was the highly publicized killing and mutilation of four Blackwater USA private military contractors, and the killings of five American soldiers in Habbaniyah a few days earlier.) (Read more at wikipedia)
EXPLANATION OF SUNNI AND SHI’A (Shi’ite) MUSLIMS
- Just as there are many denominations of Christianity (such as Catholic or Protestant) and Judaism (such as Orthodox, Conservative or Reform) there are a number of denominations of Islam.
- The major denominations of Islam are Sunni and Shi’a.
- Sunni and Shi’a have significant theological differences from each other, but possess the same essential belief in Allah and the Koran.
- Sunnis make up the majority of Muslims worldwide (80%- 85% of all Muslims are Sunni).
- The Shia are a minority, comprising between 10 percent and 15 percent of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslim population – certainly fewer than 200 million, all told.
- The Shia are concentrated in Iran, southern Iraq and southern Lebanon. But there are significant Shiite communities in Saudi Arabia and Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India as well.
- Shi’as are in the majority in Iraq (approximately 60-65% of Iraq’s population are Shi’a). Although the minority in Iraq, Sunni Arabs enjoyed favor under Saddam’s rule. (read more at wikipedia)
Watch a news clip:
Read a previous news report from Friday on the situation in the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi in Anbar Province at: washingtonpost.com.
Read a 2008 commentary “Remember the Heroes of Fallujah” at:
and a 2012 commentary “Salute to a memorable Marine” at:
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