Army Fights for Control of Anbar

By Mushreq Abbas for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

On Dec. 23, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced the launch of a military operation against al-Qaeda near the Syrian border. The operation was dubbed “Avenging the Leader Mohammad.”

Many in Iraq are hoping that this operation will eradicate al-Qaeda. However, the fact remains that the Anbar battle is over military control of the area after al-Qaeda tried to establish a foundation to fuel its activities on both sides of the 600-kilometer (373-mile) Syrian-Iraqi border.

Considering the context, the operation seems to be a reaction to the killing of a number of senior Iraqi army officers, including Maj. Gen. Mohammad al-Rawi, the commander of the 7th Division, in an ambush in the Horan valley desert, near the town of Rabta in the far west of Iraq, on Dec. 21.

The announcement of the military operation seems to have been warmly and widely greeted, especially in Baghdad and southern Iraq. But many in the cities of Anbar, Mosul and Salahuddin fear its implications.

The operation was launched for several reasons.

First, in the past, the Iraqi army was not armed in a way consistent with the launching of major operations in large desert areas. But in recent months, the army has received helicopters, American and Russian fighter jets and monitoring equipment from an earlier deal, enabling the Iraqi army to support its ground troops. The Iraqi air force had been active in the Anbar desert for weeks before the military operation.

Rashid Fleih, a leader of the Anbar operations, told Al-Monitor that the Iraqi army had received US equipment and supplies to be used in the battle against groups affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The New York Times revealed Dec. 25 that Washington will supply Iraq with a map showing the locations and origins of al-Qaeda in Iraq, besides 75 Hellfire air-to-land missiles and 10 ScanEagle reconnaissance drones. This information was confirmed by the prime minister's spokesman, Ali al-Moussawi, in a statement released Dec. 27.

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