Already facing a growing revolt among protesters in Sunni-dominated Western Iraq, the Maliki government has an even bigger problem tonight, as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has used that unrest as cover for raids into two major cities in Anbar Province and has captured parts of each.
The AQI incursion began in Ramadi, where Prime Minister Maliki ordered a violent crackdown on protesters Monday, and quickly spread, along with the protests, into neighboring Fallujah.
Iraqi military sources now say that AQI controls more than half of Fallujah and a portion of Ramadi, and their fighters have set up checkpoints in those areas and declared them part of the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” which also includes their territorial possessions in northwest Syria.
The Ramadi crackdown started against protesters condemning the arrest of a Sunni MP, and have now led to 44 MPs’ resignations. As the protests grew in the wake of the Monday crackdown, militants have taken the opportunity to launch attacks of their own, destroying several police stations and freeing large numbers of prisoners. AQI was even more ambitious and captured territory outright amid the chaos.
The split in control of both cities is now more along the lines of local Sunni tribesmen and AQI, which have been fighting one another, and the Iraqi military is backing the tribesmen as the less objectionable faction to their nominal control of the region. Either way Fallujah, a cite that bore some of the worst violence of the US occupation, is smack in the middle of another major battle, and the locals have little choice but to stay indoors and hope the crisis passes soon.