The two most dangerous cities U.S. troops faced in Iraq that were largely pacified before the 2011 pullout are rapidly falling back into chaos, as radical Sunni militants have moved back in to retake Fallujah and Ramadi, The New York Times reports.
The cities are both in Anbar province, a region where nearly one-third of American troops died. Some of the heaviest fighting of the Iraq war came in Anbar’s capital Ramadi, and Fallujah, which saw two major battles for control of the city in 2004.
From The Times:
Radical Sunni militants aligned with Al Qaeda threatened Thursday to seize control of Falluja and Ramadi, two of the most important cities in Iraq, setting fire to police stations, freeing prisoners from jail and occupying mosques, as the government rushed troop reinforcements to the areas.
Dressed in black and waving the flag of Al Qaeda, the militants commandeered mosque loudspeakers to call for supporters to join their struggle in both cities in the western province of Anbar, which have increasingly become centres of Sunni extremism since American forces withdrew from the country at the end of 2011.
“Half of Fallujah is in the hands of ISIL (the Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) group, and the other half is in the control of” armed tribesmen, an Iraq interior ministry official told AFP.
An exact number of casualties was unknown, although hospitals reported 35 killed and more than 70 wounded, according to The Times.
The uprising began after Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered security forces to dismantle protest encampments in the two cities, according to The Times. That move, while seen as a victory for the prime minister, fuelled the insurgents and led to larger political fallout.
Al Jazeera explains:
40-four MPs announced on Monday that they had submitted their resignations, and called for “the withdrawal of the army from the cities and the release of MP Ahmed al-Alwani.”
Alwani, a Sunni Arab MP who was a leading supporters of the protest camp, was arrested in a raid on his Ramadi home on Saturday in which his brother, five guards and a security forces member died.
Protests have been ongoing in Sunni-majority areas of Iraq since late 2012, according to AFP.
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