Al-Qaeda bursts back to life in Iraq

2014-01-06 21:06
A member of Ussud Al-Anbar (Anbar Lions), a Jihadist group affiliated to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant , al-Qaeda's front group in Iraq, holding up the trademark black and white Islamist flag. (File, AFP)

A member of Ussud Al-Anbar (Anbar Lions), a Jihadist group affiliated to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant , al-Qaeda's front group in Iraq, holding up the trademark black and white Islamist flag. (File, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

kalahari.com

Baghdad - Al-Qaeda gunmen seeking to form a radical Islamic state out of the chaos of Syria's civil war are fighting hard to reconquer the province they once controlled in neighbouring Iraq, stirring fears the conflict is exporting ever more instability.

Exploiting local grievances against Baghdad's rule and buoyed by al-Qaeda gains in Syria, the fighters have taken effective control of Anbar's two main cities for the first time since US occupation troops defeated them in 2006-2007.

Their advance is ringing alarm bells in Washington: The United States has pledged to help Baghdad quell the militant surge in Anbar - although not with troops - to stabilise a province that saw the heaviest fighting of the US occupation.

Al-Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has a tough potential foe in Anbar's well-armed tribes, fellow Sunnis ill-disposed to ceding power to al-Qaeda even if they share ISIL's hostility to the Shi'ite-led central government.

And the group's goal of creating a hardline Islamic state reaching into Syria is still seen by many as far-fetched.

But its high-profile push into Ramadi and Falluja illustrates the dangers of conflict spreading from Syria's three-year-old conflict, which is in part a proxy war between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite rival Iran, analysts say.

ISIL fighters operate in Syria as well, and recent setbacks for the group in the war there mean its Iraqi members may be all the more determined to secure gains in Anbar, analysts say.

"Both the Syrian and the Iraqi conflict are feeding upon one another," said Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at the London School of Economics.

'Raging fire'

"There is already a fierce geostrategic struggle unfolding in the Arab arena between Saudi Arabia and Iran. There is a real danger that all-out war in Iraq could pour more gasoline on this raging fire and destabilise fragile Arab countries."

The ISIL fighters are exploiting simmering Sunni anger against the Shi'ite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad, seen by many Sunnis as a high-handed autocrat beholden to Iran.

They are also making the most of rising sectarian sentiment around the region and a weakening of government control in those Arab countries most affected by the popular uprisings since 2011.

Gerges said a "governance vacuum" in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon has helped al-Qaeda to gain strength in recent years, risking a spillover into other countries in the region.

"Al Qaeda in Iraq, Syria and even in Lebanon basically appeals to a certain segment within Sunni public opinion that feels alienated, marginalised or persecuted," he said.

Lebanon, Syria's small neighbour, has suffered a wave of bombings since last summer with the latest suicide bombing that killed at least five people in the Hezbollah stronghold of southern Beirut last week claimed by ISIL.

In a move reminiscent of the graphic al-Qaeda propaganda in the most violent years of US occupation, a video appeared online in August purporting to show ISIL fighter Shaker Wahib al-Fahdawi questioning three Syrian truck drivers at an Iraqi desert checkpoint and then shooting them dead.

Executions

Deeming them to be Alawites, a minority to which President Bashar Assad belongs and that is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, Fahdawi strung up the bodies by the roadside in a graphic warning to non-Sunni Syrians not to venture into Iraq.

Iraq became a battlefield for al-Qaeda after the 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, but its numbers and the territory in which it operates have shrunk since 2006-2007, when Sunni tribal chiefs joined forces with the US military.

Al-Qaeda alienated much of the Anbar population during its period of control: Its fighters set up courts, imposing harsh punishments, including public executions, on those failing to implement its severe interpretation of Islam.

But for years the militants have been regrouping and plotting underground and slowly increasing their presence in the vast desert of Anbar, the heart of Iraq's Sunni insurgency after the US-led invasion.

Tension has been running especially high across Anbar since Iraqi police broke up a Sunni protest camp last week, a move that triggered clashes between Sunni armed groups and security forces.

Islamist militants stormed police stations in several cities in Anbar, seizing weapon caches and freeing prisoners.

In Falluja, the masked men took control of large parts of the city. They waved al-Qaeda flags, set up checkpoints and called on residents to support them through loudspeakers.

Iraqi troops trying to retake the cities battled al-Qaeda fighters in Ramadi and shelled Falluja.

ISIL's Fahdawi was pictured in social media walking through a government office where his men had taken control, although there was no independent confirmation of the date of the photo.

Working in al-Qaeda's favour has been rising Sunni resentment against Maliki's rule: Sunnis, a minority whose political dominance came to end with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, accuse Maliki of marginalising them.

It is also much the best organised and disciplined Sunni force in the country, according to Iraq expert Kirk Sowell, who runs the Uticensis political risk consultancy.

But al-Qaeda will have to tread carefully with the tribes, whose far more numerous fighters are in every town.

"So far, ISIL has essentially ridden this wave of popular Sunni anger," said Charles Lister, visiting fellow, Brookings Doha Center. "But for ISIL to sustain a permanent influencing presence in Anbar's urban centres, maintaining a facilitative role of local tribes is critical."

Maliki a 'better option'

Ayham Kamel, of Eurasia consultancy, said a significant portion of the Sunni community would prefer to play a role in central government politics rather than involve themselves with al-Qaeda.

"I do not expect confrontations in Anbar to trigger a country-wide civil war," he said.

The authorities' counter-strike against al-Qaeda's advance in Anbar, as well as divisions among Sunni politicians, are likely to solidify Maliki's national authority, Iraqi analyst Hashim al-Habobi said.

"Many Sunnis see Maliki as a much better option when compared to al-Qaeda," he said.

Despite being allied to al-Qaeda in Falluja, in Ramadi tribesmen are fighting with government security forces against the militants, and those who are reluctant to join in are doing so out of a fear of al-Qaeda retaliation, tribal sources say.

Maliki urged people in Falluja on Monday to drive out the al-Qaeda-linked insurgents to pre-empt a military offensive that officials said could come within days.

He will have to be careful about how he responds to the US offer of help, which would be viewed with suspicion by potential Sunni allies.

Lister of Brookings said any increased US military aid would be seen by Sunnis as a proof of a perceived shift in US policy towards regional Shi'ite powers since an interim nuclear deal with Iran in November.

Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  iraq
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News
 

BASE jump off the world’s tallest building!

Watch as two guys jump off the world's tallest building!

 
 

Where were you when you last felt alive?

Stand up paddler rides over shark!
Bear Grylls’ top 10 things kids should do outdoors
You HAVE to see this MTB Tsunami Fip!
Mountain unicycling – say WHAT?

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Deal of the week!

20% off Afrikaans books, music and DVDs. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Save up to R1000 on Hisense smartphones!

View the large range of Hisense smartphones. Buy today and save up to R1000!

Hot gaming titles – available for pre-order!

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Day Zero Edition, Far Cry 4, Grand Theft Auto 5 and more. Pre-order now!

Get a free eBook

Buy 3 eBooks and get the cheapest FREE. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Bargain box – 60% off

Reduced prices, very limited stock. While stocks last. Hurry and shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

Pushing too hard and doing too much may have left you feeling drained and overwhelmed. You may need time out to recharge and reset...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.