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Barrel bombs pummel Anbar

Analysts say the Iraqi government is pursuing a scorched-earth policy, using barrel bombs to regain control of cities it lost to terrorist organizations.
Firefighters inspect a market destroyed after an attack by Iraq security force helicopters in Ramadi, June 8, 2014. More than 420,000 people have already escaped the two main cities of western Anbar province, Falluja and Ramadi, in fighting since the start of the year. REUTERS/ Ali al-Mashhadani (IRAQ - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY MILITARY) - RTR3SS3E

Officials and residents in Anbar have repeatedly accused the Iraqi government of dumping barrel bombs on the cities of the province. They even started documenting evidence showing the use of this weapon, which has been used extensively by the Syrian regime against its opponents over the past two years.

The Iraqi army is counting on the air force to retake control of the cities dominated by armed militias affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) and a few tribal groups.

On Aug. 7, an altercation erupted in the Iraqi parliament between Shiite parliamentarian Hanan al-Fatlawi and Sunni parliamentarian Liqa Wardi over the topic of barrel bombs. While Wardi, of the Union of National Forces led by former parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, condemned the army for using barrel bombs, Fatlawi, a parliament member for the State of Law Coalition, accused the union of making false accusations against the army, and some parliament members of sympathizing with IS. The government denied the use of barrel bombs in its war against terrorism, but witnesses in Anbar province confirmed the contrary to Al-Monitor.

Sheikh Mohammed al-Bajari, a member of the interim local council of Fallujah, said the battles fought by the army and security forces in Anbar lack ethical and professional standards. He told Al-Monitor over the phone, “The army continues to collectively punish civilians,” and pointed out, “The military aircraft bombed residential neighborhoods in the city of Fallujah using barrel bombs, which resulted in enormous devastation and killed dozens of innocent citizens.”

Bajari accused the Iraqi army of using weapons of mass destruction, saying that military aircraft drop at least 10 to 15 barrel bombs every day on various neighborhoods in Fallujah. Each barrel is stuffed with highly explosive materials and weighs between 250 to 300 kilograms, he said, adding, “These officers responsible should be referred to international courts to be charged for these heinous massacres against civilians.” Furthermore, analysts say the government is pursuing a scorched-earth policy to regain control of the cities it lost to terrorist organizations, which have pushed it to use all possible means to impose its influence on the ground.

Due to the arbitrary policy of the army in Iraq's hot areas, which are witnessing continuous fighting, the Iraqi government is losing its sympathizers. This further ignites hostility against the security forces and leads young men to consider these forces as Shiite militias destroying their homes and killing their families. Such thinking drives them to observe joining armed factions, such as the Military Council, which many Anbar residents have joined because it comprises the tribesmen living in Anbar. The residents did so in the hope of restoring security by taking control of the land.

According to a security source in Anbar, “The army used barrels in some cases to target terrorist gathering spots,” and, “People are exaggerating by accusing the army.”

The military source, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Al-Monitor, "The army is counting on the air force to break into the cities. We have been following this plan since the fall of Mosul."

According to other accounts conveyed to Al-Monitor, the mortal shells fired indiscriminately by the army on the cities of Anbar, in addition to the involvement of the Shiite militia in the fighting in residential areas, have further enraged the residents. Barrel bombs exacerbated the rage, as the government is now accused of waging a war to exterminate Sunnis in Iraq.

On the other hand, Gen. Abu Othman al-Dulaimi, a former officer in Saddam Hussein's army who is now fighting alongside the Military Council of Iraqi Tribal Revolutionaries, said, “Barrel bombs are used by some armies to exterminate hostile troops in situations of war, and they result in enormous devastation of an unimaginable magnitude.” Dulaimi told Al-Monitor over the phone, “One barrel destroys three to four houses."

In an interview with Al-Monitor, human rights activist Ali al-Hayali said, “There is continuous documentation of barrel bombs being dropped over the city of Fallujah. … Human rights organizations in Anbar cooperate with international human rights organizations and we have [handed over] several audiovisual reports showing the Iraqi army dropping explosive barrels over the city.”

He added, “Lawyers are working on filing judicial actions against all officials from both the local and the central government as well as against military officers who issued the orders to the army troops to bombard the city with this kind of internationally banned weapon.”

The government should focus on not killing civilians in the hot areas and avoid indiscriminate shelling on the residential cities of Anbar, so it does not end up losing these areas, as happened in Ninevah, where IS has imposed its control. The government should also work on reforming the Sahwa forces that were established by the United States. Comprising the residents of Anbar, these forces were able to fend off al-Qaeda in the years following their inception in 2007. Moreover, the government has to adopt a political project to reconcile with the tribes that fought against the army as a result of the unjust practices of Nouri al-Maliki during the breaking up of the anti-government protests.

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