Iraq: February 22, 2005

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For the last three days, a brigade of coalition troops (U.S. Marines and Iraqis) have been engaged in "Operation River Blitz," west of Baghdad. Based on information collected last November in Fallujah, and since, roadblocks were set up throughout Anbar province, and raids carried out in Ramadi (the capital of the province) and other largely Sunni Arab cities along the Euphrates river. Anbar province has been the scene of most Sunni Arab violence in the last year, but that began to change after  Fallujah was cleared out last November. Since then, anti-government attacks have been fewer, as have coalition casualties. Arrests of terrorists have increased, and more Sunni Arab groups have defied the terrorists and began negotiating with the government. These Sunni groups, led by tribal and religious leaders, are often heavily armed, with informal militias (formal militias are illegal) containing hundreds, or even thousands, of armed men. The Sunni leaders have avoided ordering their followers to not attack the government or coalition forces, lest they have a little civil war on their hands. But that is now changing, as more Sunni Arabs, fed up with the chaos, and seeming futility of fighting the government and coalition forces, try to switch sides. The more deliberate attacks on oil facilities and utilities (like water and power), have only made life more uncomfortable. The battle of Fallujah last November made it clear that anti-government claims to have "liberated" Fallujah were just more empty propaganda. Following that, the widespread arrests of Sunni Arabs involved in the terrorism, added to the feeling among Sunni Arabs that they were backing a losing cause. Despite deliberate attacks on Shia religious festivities in the last week, the Shia dominated government continues to offer deals to Sunni Arab leaders who were willing to stick their necks out, and order their followers to cool it with the violence. These Sunni Arabs do face some real danger, for the Baath Party and al Qaeda leaders are willing to go after prominent Sunni  Arabs for "disloyalty." For Sunni Arabs, the battle for Iraq is far from over.

 

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