Baghdad’s bombing campaign (conducted by oddly modified Cessna planes shooting off hellfire missiles) is poised to turn into a Fallujah III that looks like Fallujah II minus the Marines.
To Washington’s delight, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has briefly reconciled with Anbar province’s Sunni tribal leaders in order to oust Al Qaeda from Fallujah — though it appears more like he’s using tribal personnel as a light infantry to soften extremist militants prior to an “all out assault.”
Yochi Dreazen and John Hudson of Foreign Policy report:
The Iraqi military has surrounded Fallujah with ground troops and armoured vehicles, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki indicated Monday that he was prepared to order an all-out assault on the city if tribal fighters there failed to expel the al Qaeda fighters on their own. In a jab at the White House, a senior Iranian military official, Gen. Mohammad Hejazi, said Tehran was prepared to give Baghdad weaponry and military trainers to help in what could be weeks of grinding house-to-house, street-to-street fighting.
The Fallujah of 2004 looked very similar, with troops actually circling the entire city and closing like a noose.
The difference this time is the lack of U.S. and British forces (mostly U.S. Marines) and air power, as well as changing politics.
Baghdad has sought U.S. Apache helicopters and F-16s to help destroy Al Qaeda, but Washington has dragged its feet, forcing Baghdad to turn to Russia. Fears in Washington likely centered around the perception of supporting a regime that cracks down on dissent and conducts “torture and assassinations and the killing [of] its own people,” Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi-American blogger and political analyst, recently told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!
Some officials have gone so far as to say Iran’s influence is also growing in the perceived vacuum of Washington’s hesitation.
Sectarian violence between the Sunnis and the Shias was soaring prior to Al Qaeda’s most recent offensive. Dissolution of the country was on the horizon, but now with Baghdad teaming up with Sunni tribal leaders may lead to what some call a “second awakening.”
Maliki needs to do “two things,” Rand vice president and senior fellow Charles Ries told Business Insider.
“One, he needs to decisively defeat and scatter [Al Qaeda’s occupying element, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria], and two, he needs to treat the tribal leaders who come over to his side and other significant Sunni leaders (like the Abu Risha clan), he needs to treat them well,” Ries said.
Ries, who was U.S. Ambassador to Greece from 2004 — 2007 and worked in Baghdad from 2007 — 2008, warns that success on either side has its price.
“This is wholly different from Fallujah with the Marines in that it isn’t political, Al Qaeda appears to want to take and hold ground here,” Ries said. “But this is a huge mistake for ISIS. An insurgency is harder to fight, but here they’ve stuck their heads up. They’ve seized ground and appear to want Anbar to secede from Iraq, but when you do something like that you’re much easier to defeat.”
On the flip side for Baghdad, “Everybody should understand this, if the [Iraqi Security Forces] prevail in Ramadi and Fallujah and do chase out ISIS, it’s likely that afterwards, there will be a new and quite brutal bombing in Baghdad in Shia neighborhoods.”
The bombing was already at historic levels prior to Al Qaeda’s property grab, it’s hard to imagine it getting much worse.
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