ISW Covers Al-Qaeda in Iraq: Stand-off Underway in Fallujah and Ramadi
ISW will continue to provide updates on the situation in Iraq as it unfolds. For continuous updates, visit iswiraq.blogspot.com
December 30: A Sunni insurgency in Anbar has begun. Prime Minister Maliki confronted Anbari tribal leaders at the Ramadi protest site on December 30 and forced its evacuation. Violent clashes occur between Anbari tribal militias and Iraqi Security Forces in Ramadi and Fallujah as a result.
December 31: Amidst the violence, Maliki promises to withdraw the Iraqi Army from the cities.
January 1: In the wake of the Army's withdrawal, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) leads an attack upon multiple police stations across Ramadi and Fallujah.
January 2: The Iraqi Army attempts to return to the cities, but is blocked by unidentified gunmen at the periphery. A three-way contest for control of Anbar is underway between Iraqi federal forces, AQI, and tribal militias aligned with Iraqi police. Iraqi Federal Forces can become a flash point within urban areas as tribal militias or local forces mobilize. Iraq's urban areas are highly vulnerable to escalation attempts by AQI.
January 3: Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) announces an Islamic state in Fallujah and detains 75 members of the Iraqi Army. Reportedly, an AQI commander addressed a crowd at major Friday prayers and announced that the group is in Fallujah to "to defend Sunnis from the government." AQI increases its presence in Fallujah while the Iraqi Army calls up reinforcements outside the city and begins a bombardment of suspected enemy positions. These events produce a humanitarian crisis in Fallujah with at least hundreds of families fleeing the city. Meanwhile, a political standoff has renewed between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and speaker of the Iraqi Council of Representatives (COR), Osama al-Nujaifi.
January 4: The situation in Fallujah worsens; a security official stated that Fallujah had fallen under AQI control. Other media reports indicated that "AQI is in complete control of Fallujah after the withdrawal of security forces."
January 5: The Iraqi Security Forces announce preparations to retake Fallujah city. The Iraqi Army, SWAT, and the Iraqi Special Forces will likely participate. The operation calls for the evacuation of the city's population ahead of an assault scheduled to last a number of days.
Evacuation measures by the ISF are unlikely to be effective, because an assault upon Fallujah by Shi'a-dominated security forces is itself a threat to the city's Sunni residents. The ISF operation in Fallujah will therefore result in civilian casualties and possibly invoke other violent tribal responses. It is too early to tell how effective the ISF will be against AQI in Fallujah, or what resources will be expended. Meanwhile, AQI may be well-positioned to attack in other provinces, such as Ninewa and Salah ad-Din.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced support for the Iraqi government in countering AQI, but stated that this is Iraq's fight and Prime Minister Maliki has vowed to eliminate AQI from the province. While Maliki is likely aiming to achieve a significant military victory ahead of elections, it is important to recognize that AQI cannot be decisively defeated in Anbar. The ISF presence in Anbar is therefore likely to be long-term, which increases the opportunities for AQI to exert control elsewhere in Iraq, and also increases the threat of a Sunni backlash against the ISF. It also increases the likelihood that elections will not be held on time in April.
ISW will continue to provide updates on the situation in Iraq as it unfolds.