Iraqi government looking to kick al-Qaeda out of Fallujah
The Iraqi government is pleading with its citizens in Fallujah to help them expel a force of al-Qaeda fighters who have taken control of large parts of the city. Sunni tribesmen opposed to the terrorists are assisting the army in a military operation to kick AQ out of western Iraq.
But the problem for Iraq - and Lebanon, Syria, and the rest of the Middle East - is that AQ is on the rise everywhere. Recruits have bee filling its ranks to help this AQ offshoot, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, overthrow President Assad in next door Syria. For a while, the ISIS were allies with the American backed Free Syrian Army.
But then, the ISIS turned on the FSA and other rebels and are fighting them just as fiercely as they battle Assad's forces. And to make matters worse, the ISIS is apparently trying to carve out an Islamic state by taking control of western Iraq and eastern Syria and setting up a government run according to Sharia law.
The rise of the Islamist forces in Iraq is particularly worrisome to the Obama administration. In response, U.S. officials said Sunday they were seeking to boost military support-though they emphasized no troops-for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to help in his campaign to push back al Qaeda. U.S. officials are also considering new military aid for Lebanon, which is plagued by rising sectarian violence.
Resurgent al Qaeda-allied forces battled Sunday in both Iraq and in neighboring Syria. Fighters in Iraq's Anbar Province pillaged American weapons from armories after taking control of the town of Fallujah and skirmished with Iraqi government troops on the road to Baghdad, said residents and officials there.
In Syria, al Qaeda-linked militants battled as well-but this time on the defensive. Syrian rebels said they fought al Qaeda militants on Sunday in at least five northern zones the rebels held. Many Syrian rebels have turned on the main al Qaeda group-the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, which is increasingly reviled for its extremism and violence.
This broadening instability, according to Middle East diplomats and experts, is placing the White House in a growing diplomatic quandary as its regional allies fall into competing camps amid a intensifying proxy battle between regional powerhouses Iran and Saudi Arabia.
While the U.S. is trying to shore up the Shiite-led government in Iraq, it simultaneously is strongly supporting Lebanon's government and Sunni militias in Syria that are attempting to weaken Iran's political allies in Beirut and Damascus.
The U.S.'s ability to navigate these worsening regional divisions will greatly influence international attempts to stabilize Iraq, Lebanon and Syria in the coming months, said these diplomats.
In Lebanon, AQ is doing what it does best; stirring the sectarian pot, bringing that country closer to civil war. They are attacking Hezb'allah targets in southern Beirut, killing Shiite leaders and detonating car bombs. Rather than blame AQ, Hezb'allah is ominously blaming the Sunni political opposition. And anti-Syrian demonstrations are becoming increasingly violent.
Some believe that if a poltical solution can be found in Syria, that the threat of AQ will diminish. This is the administration's view as well as much of the west. Rebel allies in the Gulf like the Saudis are far less certain, however, and believe that we are in for an extended and protracted war against the terrorists.
This doesn't solve Iraq's AQ problem. The government is weak and divided and unless Prime Minister Maliki negotiates in good faith with the Sunni minority, AQ will continue to make inroads with some of the tribes. In this, the clock is turning back to 2006 when AQ was at the height of its influence and thousands were dying every month.