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Friday, January 3, 2014

Al-Qaida Takes Control Of Fallujah

Armed tribesmen and Iraqi police stand guard in a street as clashes rage on in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, on January 2, 2014. (Azhar Shallal/AFP/Getty Images)

Armed tribesmen and Iraqi police stand guard in a street as clashes rage on in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, on January 2, 2014. (Azhar Shallal/AFP/Getty Images)

During the war in Iraq, American troops fought some of their fiercest battles in Fallujah.

Now two years after the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the city seems to be the hub of a new insurgency.

Al Qaida-linked militants have taken control of most of Fallujah and also the nearby city Ramadi.

More than 7,000 Iraqis died in violence in 2013, and it appears 2014 might be just as bloody. Here & Now’Meghna Chakrabarti  speaks with the BBC’s Mohamed Yehia about the situation in Iraq.


  • Mohamed Yehia, multimedia producer for the BBC’s Arabic service. He tweets @yeh1a.



From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. It's HERE AND NOW.


CHAKRABARTI: Sound there of some of the most brutal fighting that occurred during the Iraq War at the Battle of Fallujah, which took place nearly 10 years ago. Almost 100 Americans were killed there in November and December of 2004. Now, two years after U.S. combat forces have left Iraq, insurgents are back. A group linked to al-Qaida has basically taken over Fallujah and another major Iraqi city, Ramadi.

Troops from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are fighting back with Hellfire rockets provided by the U.S. Mohamed Yehia is with the BBC's Arabic Service and he joins us today from London. And, Mohamed, I mentioned that these are al-Qaida-linked fighters that have overtaken Fallujah and Ramadi, major Iraqi cities, who are they affiliated with and who are they - particular?

MOHAMED YEHIA: The al-Qaida affiliated group is the Islamic state in Iraq and Syria. They're operating in both sides of the border in Iraq and Syria. And they are allied to some of the tribal forces in the western province of Anbar in Iraq. It's a large province that makes up around a third of the territorial area of Iraq.

CHAKRABARTI: And, Mohamed, let me ask you, take us more deeper into the source of this current moment in Iraq, because Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a Shiite, and so is this an extension of the sectarian violence that we've seen in Iraq over the past year, between Sunnis who feel that they are being heavily discriminated against by the Iraqi government, or is this something different because of those external affiliations you just mentioned?

YEHIA: To understand what is going on, you have to look at this on two levels. First you have to look at what is happening inside Iraq where you have Shia dominated the government, the Maliki government. And you have the Sunni minorities - and they have their grievances. And this is an internal Iraqi problem.

But then you have to look at the wider picture of what is happening all around the region, with the start of the Arab revolts three years ago and the fall of several governments around Iraq: in Syria, in Egypt, in Tunisia. Now this has created a political vacuum, and it led to major changes in the region. The most prominent of which is - has exacerbated the Tunisia confrontation.

And it had led to the, you know, resurgence of the fundamentalists Sunni movements, the jihadist, the al-Qaida type groups who have their ultimate goal of setting up their own states within the region. This is happening on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border. It's happening in Libya, it's happening in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, it's happening in Yemen.

CHAKRABARTI: So further destabilization of an already very sensitive situation in Iraq. Finally, Mohamed, I mean, another interesting aspect of what's going on in Fallujah and Ramadi right now is that the United States is arming Iraqi government fighters, so some heavy firepower here. But is it enough to win this battle or are those al-Qaida affiliated fighters very deeply entrenched in Fallujah?

YEHIA: They are not a huge number and they don't pose, you know, an existential threat for the Maliki government. But they - from the Maliki point of view, they have to be kept in check. And this is why he is seeking, you know, the military supplies from the U.S., the drones, the missiles, et cetera.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, Mohamed Yehia is with the BBC's Arabic service, speaking to us today from London about the insurgency going on in Fallujah and Ramadi. Mohamed, thank you.

YEHIA: Thank you.

CHAKRABARTI: You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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