Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Violent clashes continued in Iraq’s western province of Anbar on Friday after local tribes cooperating with security forces recaptured several police stations from Al-Qaeda fighters. The conflict comes as Iraqi forces seek to dislodge militants from Fallujah and Ramadi, the two main cities in the province.
The Iraqi Army continued the shelling of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) strongholds in the two cities, with clashes between militants, Iraqi tribesman and security forces ongoing. Local media reported that masked ISIS fighters had attended Friday prayers in Ramadi and that the black Al-Qaeda flag continued to be flown in both cities.
“Mortar shells fell in central Fallujah, heavily damaging houses,” a security source told Asharq Al-Awsat. The scale of the casualties from the fighting in Fallujah on Friday remain unknown, with conflicting reports regarding the military operations in the city. One policeman informed AFP that the Iraqi military had retaken a number of districts but that ISIS remained in control of about a quarter of the city, while local media said that the army had not yet entered Fallujah.
Clashes in Anbar erupted on Monday after Iraqi troops dismantled a protest camp in Ramadi. Sunni Arabs have been holding protests in Anbar over the past year against perceived discrimination by the Shi’ite-led government. Following the clashes, Maliki agreed to withdraw the military from Anbar so that local police could resume control of the situation. But after the army’s withdrawal, Al-Qaeda-linked militants emerged in Ramadi, Fallujah and Tamiya, taking control of police stations. Maliki then redeployed the military to Anbar.
Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, a member of the Sons of Iraq in Anbar province, Fares Ibrahim, said that the “rapid security deterioration was not the result of the withdrawal of the army as a large number of police officers remained in Anbar.”
“This was due to the negative atmosphere created by the politicians,” he said, citing the resignation of the Mutahidoun Coalition MPs and the statements made by the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Osama Al-Nujaifi, against the military.
He affirmed that this “led to a collapse of morale among the police officers,” adding that the “firm stance tribesmen and Iraqis have taken over the past two days restored the balance after it seemed to have been tipping in favor of the terrorists who took control of a number of police stations in Ramadi and Fallujah.”
Ibrahim urged the Iraqi military to retake the two cities as soon as possible, adding that “stability in the cities is more important than the war in the desert,” referring to the Iraqi government’s anti-terror campaign on the outskirts of Anbar.
Earlier this week, the Mutahidoun Coalition led by Nujaifi condemned the military for entering Anbar in an “unnecessarily provocative manner.” However, the bloc later slammed the army for “leaving Anbar when the security situation was worsening.”
The coalition’s statement stressed the importance of “seriously and urgently addressing the deteriorating security in Anbar.”
In exclusive comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, leading State of Law Coalition member Adnan Al-Sarraj slammed Mutahidoun for “trying to exploit crises for their own benefit without considering the ensuring results.”
Sarraj accused Mutahidoun of inciting the public against the military following its deployment in Anbar, adding that this opened the door for the “gangs” to roam the streets and take control of police stations.
“Politicians in Iraq have grown accustomed to fabricating crises rather than resolving them, which has begun to have an effect on the Iraqi street in general,” he added.