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Fallujah Falls to Islamic Militants

Important city during the 2003 Iraq War falls to al-Qaeda linked forces

Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller came to be known as The Marlboro Marine when this photo was taken of him November 9, 2004, as his unit, Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, entered Fallujah, an insurgent stronghold in Iraq's Sunni Triangle. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Luis Sinco

Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller came to be known as The Marlboro Marine when this photo was taken of him November 9, 2004, as his unit, Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, entered Fallujah, an insurgent stronghold in Iraq's Sunni Triangle. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

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On January 4, the city of Fallujah in the Anbar province of Iraq, fell to Islamic militants affiliated with al Qaeda, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, after a three day clash with government forces. On the 19th the Iraqi government announced an offensive to retake the city and other areas of the province.

After the 2003 invasion of Iraq led by the U.S. that resulted in the overthrow of the dictator Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, many other Sunni Muslims grew resentful over the loss of their prominence and the establishment of the new Shiite dominated government. Sunni and Shia are the two main denominations of Islam, and traditionally don’t have the best of relationship dating back to the death of Islam’s founder Muhammad. The desert province of Anbar is a region almost entirely made up of Sunni Muslims in a country where the majority of people are Shiites. As such the province was a hotbed of insurgent activity and according to the BBC, claimed about a third of all U.S. casualties during America’s eight year stint in the country.

Fallujah, located only a few miles from the capital of Baghdad, was the home of one of the bloodiest engagements in U.S. Marine Corps history.”

— Ian MacLeod

Fallujah, located only a few miles from the capital of Baghdad, was the home of one of the bloodiest engagements in U.S. Marine Corps history. Fighting started there after the deaths of four Americans and the public desecration of their bodies in the city in April of 2004. Seven months later Operation Phantom Fury and the second battle of Fallujah began. After weeks of room to room searches and building by building combat, close to 100 Americans had died with roughly 1,000 more wounded, according to Fox News.

Since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011 violence in Iraq, especially between Sunnis and Shias has been on the rise. According to the UN, the death count for 2013 was 8,868. This is the highest since the end of the Iraqi insurgency’s height in 2007. This recent string of fighting in the Anbar province began after the breakup of a Sunni protest in the provincial capital of Ramadi by government troops last year on Monday, December 30 of last year. According to the BBC, many Sunni Muslims are angered because they believe “their minority community is being targeted by anti-terrorism measures implemented to stem the surge in sectarian violence.” The next day Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, a Shiite, announced the withdrawal of troops from Anbar’s cities and towns so that the police can resume regular duty.

Almost immediately Islamic militants started attacking government buildings, freeing imprisoned criminals, and taking hold of weapons and vehicles like police cars.  According to the BBC on the Thursday of that week black flags were raised atop government buildings in Fallujah and Ramadi and the Islamists announced their “peaceful takeover”, calling for the support of the people. By now the police had left Fallujah’s center putting the Islamists in control. Islamists are also in control of parts of Ramadi. Islamists also have begun forcing their strict beliefs on the population of Fallujah, according to the Wall Street Journal. They have also paraded weapons in the streets as a show of force, and held a group of local leaders captive, who were only freed after other local leaders threatened them.

BBC reports that the U.S. government has offered the Iraqi government help “in the form of surveillance drones, helicopters, and Hellfire missiles”, but according to Fox News, Secretary of State John Kerry has stated that the Pentagon “is not contemplating putting boots on the ground.” Fox News also reports that Senior Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Asadi claims that weapons held by the Islamic militants are “advanced and huge and enough to occupy Baghdad.

Fallujah and other parts of Anbar province are still being contested between government troops and allied tribesmen and Islamist forces and other anti-government tribal militias.

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