Anbar province (most of western Iraq) is still a battle zone.
Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant
) continues fighting in both Iraq and Syria and has conducted raids as far east as Abu Ghraib, with is 20 kilometers west of Baghdad. Despite army announcements of heavy enemy casualties fighting continues in Fallujah. Since January this city has been the center of the action because of the crucial geographical position the city has occupied for nearly 3,000 years. The city is actually a small peninsula surrounded on three sides by the Euphrates River and the banks not covered by the city are full of date palms and other cover for armed men. The city itself is densely populated (320,000 people) with lots of narrow streets and alleys. No wonder a quarter of the American dead during the Iraq war were in and around Fallujah. Only 60 kilometers west of Baghdad, it is the gateway between the desert-like region to the west and the densely populated Tigris-Euphrates river valley to the east. The local Sunni tribes convinced the government to not launch a major military assault, which would probably succeed but likely destroy the city (again, it’s happened many times over the centuries). The tribes sent in their gunmen and negotiators in and hope to outtalk, outmaneuver or simply kill all the Islamic terrorists there. That has not worked and ISIL continues to control some neighborhoods. Since February the government has used airpower (aircraft and helicopters armed with Hellfire missiles) and groups of soldiers and allied tribesmen to take out ISIL positions one at a time. Meanwhile many residents of Fallujah and Ramadi (the provincial capital which still contains pockets of ISIL control) have left their homes until the fighting is over. The total number of such refugees in Anbar is about 400,000 (a quarter of the provincial population). These people have good reason to flee because in March alone over a hundred civilians were killed or wounded by the fighting. Pro-government tribesmen are trying to clear Ramadi of ISIL and in the last few weeks have managed to prevent ISIL from getting more gunmen into the city.
For most of the time since January 1st there have been ceasefires in Fallujah, at the behest of local pro-government tribes who want to avoid destroying the city with a major military assault. So for days at a time the tribes get ceasefires enforced although it is usually the ISIL that breaks it and the army and police go back into action. The ceasefires enable ISIL forces to move around (without displaying weapons) and bring in supplies. Arrests of ISIL men continue elsewhere in Anbar and northern Iraq. But the province is too large for the government to completely control and there are still thousands of armed ISIL men hiding out in remote locations. Using cars, SUVs and trucks these Islamic terrorists can quickly move to most anywhere in the province and launch an attack. The army checkpoints control the main roads, but not the many dirt tracks found in the semi-desert province. It is still a fluid situation but the ISIL are losing. To survive the ISIL increasing turns to looting and just taking what they need. This creates anger even among Anbar residents who have long been sympathetic to the Islamic terrorists. As ISIL loses more ground in Fallujah there are more attacks on security forces in towns and villages between Fallujah and Baghdad. This is supposed to take some of the pressure off ISIL in Fallujah and it probably does. Although the security forces are far more numerous they are responsible for the entire country and the additional guard duty and patrolling in Anbar this year is working many soldiers and police hard. It’s even more of a strain on the air force, whose helicopters and fixed wing aircraft are being worn out by the intense operations.
Fallujah is not the only city that ISIL has tried to take over. Across the border in eastern Syria ISIL has taken control of the city (population 500,000) of Raqqa and turned it into an “Islamic city.” Strict lifestyle rules have been imposed and local Christians have to pay an extra tax to avoid persecution. ISIL has pulled out of many towns and villages they controlled in northern Syria and apparently plan to concentrate in Raqqa for a last stand. So far government forces have not made a move to retake Raqqa.
Al Qaeda has officially disowned ISIL, after many attempts this year to get ISIL to cooperate. ISIL has refused and declared itself the true Islamic radicals and defenders of Islam. Such splits in radical organizations are common and this one has been in the works for a decade. The Iraqi Sunni Islamic terrorists always had a very high opinion of themselves and that clashed with the largely Saudi and Egyptian leadership of al Qaeda. The main area of disagreement was the ISIL insistence on aggressively going after Shia (and other minority Moslem sects) and non-Moslems and killing them. Al Qaeda leadership considers there attacks counterproductive and prefers to work with other Moslems (including Shia) to replace the governments of Moslem nations with religious dictatorships. ISIL is seen as just out to kill and out of control. The Iraqi government is confident that they will eventually crush ISIL, if only because most Iraqis (including Sunnis) hate this group. Most Iraqis also hate their government, which is blamed for the growing problems with electricity and water supplies and the shaky sewage systems. Mainly this is all about corruption, a prominent feature of live in this region for thousands of years. Dealing with the corruption is a long-term goal while ISIL is a much more immediate threat.
Years of attacks on police and army commanders has paid off because the Islamic terrorists can often get police or soldiers to back off by making credible threats to assassinate commanders later if they do not cooperate. ISIL still likes to kill Shia civilians but apparently devotes much more effort to its assassination program. Victims include leaders of anti-terrorists Sunni tribal militias and any other prominent Sunnis who openly oppose ISIL as well as lots of Shia politicians. As during Saddam Hussein’s rule, Iraq is again becoming the “Republic of Fear”.
The government is preparing to distribute polio vaccine to 20 million Iraqis. This is in response to the recent (March) confirmation that the first case of polio had been found in Iraq since 2000. This was the result of Pakistani based Islamic terrorists infected by polio (but not crippled by it, which is common with many people exposed to polio or other viruses like influenza) coming from Syria since 2012. Syria had polio outbreaks earlier in 2013 and has been unable to carry out a polio vaccination program because of the violence and the refusal of some rebel groups to cooperate. Polio is a problem because Pakistani Islamic terrorist rebels have apparently brought polio back to Syria. As a result in 2013 there were over fifty cases of polio in Syria, after having been absent since the late 1990s. In the first three months of 2014 there were 27 cases. In Pakistan there were 62 cases of polio in 2013, which was more than all of 2012 (58). In Pakistan polio cases reached a low of 28 in 2005 but then Islamic terrorist opposition to vaccination led to a sharp increase that hit 198 cases in 2011. Since then Pakistani government and religious leaders have sought to deal with resistance to the vaccination campaign. A Pakistani Taliban ban on polio vaccinations has left over 250,000 young children vulnerable to the disease and these are most of the ones getting infected. Years of Islamic radical clerics preaching that polio is un-Islamic has caused a growing number of parents to refuse the vaccinations even when there is no Islamic terrorist threat of retaliation. In 2013 about three percent of Pakistani children failed to get the vaccination, either because of Islamic terrorists or parents believing the anti-vaccination propaganda. Polio should have been eliminated entirely by now, as it can only survive in a human host. But there has been resistance from Islamic clergy in some countries, who insist the vaccinations are a Western plot to harm Moslem children. This has enabled polio to survive in some Moslem countries (especially Nigeria, Somalia and Pakistan). The disease also survives in some very corrupt nations, like Kenya, because of the difficulty in getting vaccine to remote areas, tracking down nomad groups and stopping corrupt officials from plundering the vaccination program (and causing many vaccinations to not happen). Islamic terrorists from Pakistan are believed responsible for the outbreak of polio in Syria because an analysis of the DNA of the polio in Syria was similar to polio DNA found in Pakistan. The polio that infected a six month old Iraqi child in March was analyzed and found to be the same one being found in Syria.
April 5, 2014: Some 20 kilometers northwest of Baghdad Islamic terrorists booby trapped a house they had been hiding out in and when soldiers showed up the terrorists fled and when soldiers entered the house the explosives hidden there were detonated by remote control, killing at least twenty troops. This tactic is becoming increasingly common and police and soldiers have to change their tactics to adapt and survive.
April 3, 2014: Southwest of Baghdad over a hundred ISIL men launched an attack on an army camp. The troops were prepared and killed at least 40 of the attackers, who left behind many bodies and over twenty weapons. ISIL always tries to drag their dead and wounded away from a defeat but the army counterattack was unexpectedly effective.
April 1, 2014: In March at least 592 Iraqis died from Islamic terrorist violence. Soldiers and police were 18 percent of that and most of the rest were civilians. It’s believed at least 200 Islamic terrorists died, but it’s often difficult to tell because the terrorists don’t wear uniforms and there are a lot of pro-government Sunni tribal gunmen involved and a lot of the bodies are blasted by explosives. Nevertheless the death rate was down from February, when there were about a thousand deaths. In the last two months a third of these deaths were in Anbar, where there has been major fighting with ISIL since early January. Deaths in January where over 1,500 and over half of those were in Anbar. In 2013 the death toll was 8,900 for all of Iraq and only ten percent of those were terrorists while the majority were Shia civilians. ISIL is believed to have lost heavily in the Anbar fighting and lost even more men in Syria. Over 3,000 Iraqis have died so far this year from terrorist related violence.
ISIL released an eight minute long video on the Internet showing dozens of vehicles carrying over a hundred Islamic terrorists parading down a crowded street in Abu Ghraib, which is 20 kilometers west of downtown Baghdad (and three kilometers west of the city limits). The “parade” apparently took place on March 20th and police were apparently warned to stay away or face a major battle. The ISIL forces dispersed after the parade and resumed making attacks on army and police bases in the area. The ISIL men take casualties but because they are all fanatical volunteers, this just encourages the others to keep going.
March 20, 2014: In Ramadi ISIL rigged a house they were using with explosives then fled when a police SWAT team approached and set off the explosives by remote control as the SWAT team swarmed into the house, killing about 14 policemen.