Fallujah reflects Maliki’s sectarian politics in Iraq
Fallujah is a name intrinsically linked with the US-led invasion of Iraq, which is why the news that the city has fallen under the control of Al Qaeda-linked militants seems emblematic of everything that has gone wrong since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Instead of emerging into an envisaged era of peace, justice and democracy after Saddam was deposed, 11 years later parts of Iraq are becoming increasingly unstable and violent.
The full picture of what is happening in Fallujah and in Anbar province generally is, of course, far more nuanced than simply being a direct legacy of the 2003 invasion. Part of the blame must lie squarely on the shoulders of Iraqi prime minister Nouri Al Maliki, who has followed a zero-sum game plan in governing Iraq, leading to many of the nation’s Sunnis feeling marginalised by his Shia-majority government. Sunni-majority areas such as Fallujah and Ramadi were both scenes of heavy fighting between government troops and militias since the forced clearance of anti-government protest camps last week, leaving more than a dozen dead. The latest fighting has now seen the death toll reach more than 50.
Nor even is the situation simply a fight between the government and Al Qaeda-linked group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) . As Gen Ali Ghaidan Majeed, the Iraqi ground forces commander, said after withdrawing government forces from the centres of Fallujah and Ramadi, there are three separate groups involved in the fighting: the security forces and allied tribes, Isis and forces from an anti-government group called the Military Council of the Tribes that opposes the other two.
Caught in the middle are most of the residents of Fallujah and Ramadi, who this week faced the invidious choice of fleeing their homes or staying put and weathering the siege and then the inevitable offensive by government troops to regain control. Many residents already went through this in 2004, when US, British and Iraqi military forces retook Fallujah in Operation Phantom Fury. In the process, half of the homes in the city sustained damage and a quarter were destroyed.
There was a degree of inevitability in all this. Mr Al Maliki’s pursuit of sectarian politics has, unsurprisingly, led to sectarian violence. What is needed instead are inclusive policies that will diminish the appeal of armed struggle for the Sunni minority.