When al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) captured the city of Fallujah last week, it was in many ways a game changer for the nation, the first major territory lost to the militant faction.
It would be a mistake to see this as a simply war between Iraq and AQI, however, as the week leading up to the Fallujah takeover saw much of the Anbar Province in open revolt over military crackdowns against peaceful protesters.
Fallujah may be the big story, but the situation is a three-way conflict between the Maliki government, AQI, and Sunni tribal leaders who aren’t particularly keen on either of them.
Prime Minister Maliki’s ultimatum, demanding the tribal leaders expel AQI or face an offensive, really underscores a fight that was already going on before AQI capitalized on it, and will continue even if AQI is removed from the situation.
Two weeks ago, Maliki ordered a Sunni MP arrested as a “terrorist,” sparking major protests in Fallujah and Ramadi. He responded to those protests with military action, killing a large number of them, and 44 MPs resigned in protest. Maliki is losing control over much of the nation, and this problem could be a more protracted difficulty than AQI taking a single city.