Resolution of Anbar crisis requires security, political coordination
When the Iraqi army marched on the Anbar desert on Dec. 22 to wage war against al-Qaeda fighters along the Iraqi-Syrian border, the operation was viewed as an opportunity to restore the hope of achieving internal consensus around the necessity to fight extremism.
Instead, however, it resurrected a state of confusion, leading to questions about the decisions being made in Baghdad as countless al-Qaeda militants brought the fighting from the border to the streets of the cities in Anbar province following the arrest of Sunni MP Ahmed al-Alwani, the dispersal of yearlong Sunni protests and the resulting rise in tribal anger.
The situation in Anbar was unstable to begin with. These areas had for 10 years been the scene of numerous security disturbances and skirmishes, as residents there continued to be subjected to marginalization and exclusion at the political level.
Al-Qaeda also played a major role in the instability plaguing Sunni cities, contributing to the necessity for military intervention, various conflicts and accusations of collusion burdening the local population. The Sunnis in the affected areas complained that accusations of their belonging to al-Qaeda were used to attack them and target their political figures, clan leaders and social and religious personalities.
It should have come as no surprise when in late December in Anbar hundreds of fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) flooded into cities to burn security stations and other government sites. During the past 10 years, al-Qaeda has learned to exploit social unrest in Iraq to expand its activities and has used the tense relationship between authorities in Baghdad and the Sunni cities as an avenue for spreading its influence. The roots of the situation in Anbar are many.