Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009 says “It’s exactly what they had in Afghanistan before 9/11.” Recently the Obama administration increased military assistance to Iraq by providing missiles, helicopters and surveillance drones after Maliki visited the White House in November. Iraq may need more than such military gear, Crocker said. “There has been talk of increased intelligence assets, which is good,” he also suggested that instead of selling U.S. F-16 jet fighters made by Lockheed Martin and Boeing Apache attack helicopters, the U.S. should look into equipping Iraqis with Mi-35 attack helicopters made by Moscow-based Russian Helicopters because Iraqis are more familiar with operating the Russian equipment.
All this paints an ugly picture going forward. In the two years since the last American combat soldier left Iraq we have seen infighting and dysfunction rip the country apart. The Iraqi government is in danger of losing control over two Iraqi cities that were strongholds of Sunni insurgents in the predominantly Sunni Muslim Anbar province during the U.S. occupation. They are battlegrounds once more after al Qaeda militants largely took them over in recent days. After Iraq authorities arrested a senior Sunni politician and dismantled a camp set up to protest against perceived Sunni marginalization tensions in Ramadi soarded and as a concession, al-Maliki pulled the military out of Anbar cities turning security duties over to local police as demanded by Sunnis who see the army as a tool of al-Maliki's rule.
The current violence in Falluja, Ramadi and Tarmiya represent a serious escalation in the confrontation between Iraqi Sunni groups and the Shi'ite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. We have seen al Qaeda militants overrun and burn police stations, driving out security forces, freeing prisoners, and raised the al Qaeda flag over government buildings. They forced all policemen to leave without their weapons if they wanted to live. All of us left, we didn't want to die for nothing," a policeman stationed at one of the three stations told Reuters. The al Qaeda gunmen that swept into Fallujah just over 30 miles west of Baghdad are seeking to win over the population. A militant commander appeared among worshippers holding Friday prayers in the main city street, proclaiming that his fighters were there to defend Sunnis from the government.
Washington stops short of declaring that either city has fallen to the insurgents, calling it “a fluid situation,” The Iraqi government likely has the power to retake these cities. They have the fire power because, among other things, they have America-made tanks. On Thursday, government warplanes fired Hellfire missiles recently supplied by the United States at some militant positions. The danger is that retaking these cities will set off an all-out war between the Shiites and the Sunnis. If al-Qaeda manages to really take hold of western Iraq it will be a pretty substantial base on Arab territory, where they would have security and a base to extend operations wherever they want.
U.S. officials blame the resurgence of al Qaeda in part on the incompetence of the Maliki government and in part on the spillover effect from the civil war in Syria. “We’ve seen the kind of terrorist violence we’ve seen in Syria, and that’s certainly spilled over into Iraq,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a briefing “But we are very concerned about it. That’s why we’re engaged consistently with the Iraqis to help fight it together.” The war to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, pits forces backed by Shiite Iran, which supports Assad, against Sunni rebels supported by Saudi Arabia, the region’s largest Sunni power. U.S. interests would be threatened if Sunni militants backed by our friend Saudi Arabia and aligned with al-Qaeda gain a foothold in western Iraq,
Snni Arabs in Iraq claim they have been targeted and politically marginalised by the Shia-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a charge the prime minister denies. The prime minister has offered some concessions to Sunni protesters, including proposed reforms to tough anti-terrorism laws, but most Sunni leaders say they will not be enough to appease the demonstrators. This occurs as the Shi'ite premier seeks to consolidate his position before 2014 parliamentary elections by taking a tough stance against hardline Sunni Islamists. Maliki also faces a political protest, with 44 members of Iraq’s parliament resigning because the government used force to dismantle protests in Anbar. Al-Maliki called in military reinforcements and sought the support of Sunni tribal fighters, who oppose al Qaeda though they still mistrust the government.
U.S. military assistance to Iraq may open the door to discussions about sending advisory teams of U.S. special operations forces, and others that can operate armed drones back into the country. While some think the Obama administration may have to step up such engagement with Iraqi and other regional leaders there is little public or political support for renewed military involvement in Iraq. Americans have been left with a bad taste from the costly war where 4,489 Americans were killed and 51,778 wounded in action. The Bush administration invaded the country almost 11years ago to remove dangerous weapons of mass destruction that later were found not to exist..
So far, the violence hasn’t affected Iraq’s major oil fields, the country’s main source of revenue. Oil output increased 100,000 barrels a day to 3.2 million barrels last month, the most since August. The country pumped more crude as it increased links to wells in its predominately Shiite south. Iraq is the second-biggest producer in OPEC after Saudi Arabia. Whenever a few hundred armed men can jump aboard vehicles and drive into a city and totally destabilize it you have a problem. ISIS fighters posted videos of themselves burning government vehicles, setting up checkpoints and issuing challenges to the authority of Mr Maliki. If it begins to effect oil production it may well be "checkmate" on an already fragile government.
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