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Armed groups on rise in Anbar

The Anbar crisis is escalating to the point where people have lost their faith and trust in the army and government as sectarian fighting intensifies.
Mourners react during a funeral of an Iraqi soldier, who was killed during clashes in Ramadi, in Najaf, 160 km (99 miles) south of Baghdad, January 10, 2014. Militants of the al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which is also fighting in neighbouring Syria, took control of Falluja and parts of nearby Ramadi on January 1 with the help of sympathetic armed tribesmen. The prospect of an imminent Iraqi army assault on Falluja receded on Friday as negotiators tried to work out a deal unde

The escalation of the Anbar crisis, including both the developments on the ground and the political repercussions, has resulted in some Iraqis adopting a hostile position toward the state and its institutions, creating a tribal and sectarian bias among the citizens.

The clashes between the government forces and the armed groups in the desert and cities of Anbar have had adverse social and economic effects on the troubled province since the beginning of 2013.

Cities such as Fallujah and Ramadi have seen massive displacement of people, given the indiscriminate shelling of houses, while most of the infrastructure recently built by local authorities has been destroyed. Food prices skyrocketed as food supplies have become scarce in the market due to the siege on cities. Vital governmental institutions stopped operation, schools are disrupted and students failed to take the mid-term exams.

Meanwhile, armed groups moved their activities inside the cities. Their military operations and their leaders’ rhetoric promoted the groups’ presence inside the province. New recruits joined the ranks of the armed groups, mostly young men in their 20s.

According to witnesses speaking to Al-Monitor, many young men have become affiliated with armed groups due to the escalation of sectarian tension in the province. A construction worker was recently killed along with his friends in violent clashes between the two sides, in the center of Ramadi.

The poor government management of the military and security situation paved the way for militants to mobilize more eager young people. The indiscriminate shelling of neighborhoods in the Anbar province and the death and injury of many, spurred the spirit of vengeance among the families of the victims.

While the crisis continues to weigh heavily on the social and economic situation in the province, activists from Anbar and other provinces launched a solidarity campaign via Facebook, calling upon the government to stop the indiscriminate shelling against unarmed civilians.

The activists confirmed that this campaign is launched against terrorism, calling for the security of the citizens. In a statement announcing the launch of the campaign, published on Feb. 17, the activists demanded parliament, ministers, political forces, and clerical and national figures to work for the development of a realistic road map to restore the city’s security.

Rabah Hassan al-Zaydan, a writer and journalist who is one of the campaign’s organizers, told Al-Monitor, “The campaign was launched because we believe that public opinion can pressure the Iraqi government to take serious and decisive action, in light of the indiscriminate shelling against the unarmed citizens of the Anbar province and the lack of services according to humanitarian values and human rights treaties.”

Article 48 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, and their additional protocols on the protection of victims of international armed conflicts issued in 1977, stipulates that “the parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.”

While the Facebook campaign was met with popular support from intellectuals, activists, students and civil society figures, it did not find any interest among the government or any of the influential decision-making political parties.

According to political activist Hikmat al-Dulaimi, a former member of the Anbar Provincial Council, “The campaign reverberated among circles concerned about the tragedies suffered by the Iraqi people in general and the Anbar citizens in particular.”

“The campaign did not expand as it was supposed to, due to the escalating sectarian tension, which was the result of the government’s aggressive rhetoric against whoever is objecting to its management of the crisis,” Dulaimi told Al-Monitor.

Regarding the reasons why the government ignored the solidarity campaign, Dulaimi said, “The campaign will show the magnitude of this humanitarian and national crisis, which is the result of the government’s poor management. Political parties are only interested in what comes to their electoral advantage.”

The escalation of the Anbar crisis and its developments on the ground, the policies of the government management and its repercussions on the future of the province had clear adverse effects in the hearts of the displaced, whose homes were destroyed by indiscriminate shelling. This has created some sort of hostile position against the state and its institutions, causing the people to lose faith in the army as an independent institution, as it has been used for political reasons. The escalating sectarian and tribal bias among the citizens of Anbar has led many of them to accept the hard-line rhetoric.

In this context, many complicated questions are raised: What are the means available to the government to avoid civilian casualties? How will it distinguish between innocent people and terrorists? What are the factors that promoted the emergence of new armed groups? How will the government be able to face this dilemma and its repercussions in the near future?

A possible solution of the Anbar crisis depends primarily on building a more professional army, which is not affiliated to sectarian slogans, and on the immediate need to stop indiscriminate shelling. Moreover, efforts must be made to restore mutual trust between the province and the army and promote social and political moderation in Anbar, as the matter is not resolved simply by allocating funds to those affected and increasing the number of security forces to fight terrorism.

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