US warplanes launched a concentrated attack on the ISIS-held Iraqi town of Hawijah today, sparking major explosions that killed at least 70 people, including a number of civilian bystanders in the Sunni town.
The attacks centered around a warehouse in the city, which Iraqi officials claimed was the “largest car bomb factory” in ISIS territory, which they said was the reason for the explosions and the large casualties caused by the strikes.
Hawijah was ground zero of the sectarian blood-letting that fueled the war with ISIS, when the Iraqi military launched a bloody crackdown on civilian protesters in the area in 2013. This fueled months of growing tensions among Iraq’s Sunni Arab population, capped off with an expulsion of Iraqi forces from Ramadi and Fallujah by local protesters in January 2014. ISIS entered the area shortly thereafter.
The latest US strikes and the subsequent civilian casualties are likely to fuel more Sunni resentment both of the Shi’ite-dominated Iraqi government and the US-led coalition, which usually denies Sunni civilian deaths, and on the rare occasions it confirms the strikes they try to justify them.