Al Qaeda seizes partial control of 2 cities in western Iraq

Over the past several days, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, has taken control of large sections of two western Iraqi cities that were once bastions for the terror group.

ISIS fighters entered the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar, after the Iraqi military withdrew from them following clashes with tribes over a political standoff that resulted in the arrest of a Sunni member of parliament.

The ISIS has posted videos of its fighters entering the cities in force after clashing with Iraqi police and overrunning several checkpoints. In the videos, a large convoy of ISIS fighters driving technicals, or pickup trucks with heavy machine guns mounted on the back, is seen moving through Ramadi. The fighters are flying al Qaeda’s black banner while singing praises to al Qaeda and its “Islamic state.” [See more videos here.]

Officials from the Iraqi Interior Ministry acknowledged that parts of Fallujah and Ramadi are under al Qaeda control.

“Half of Fallujah is in the hands of ISIS (the Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham) group,” an anonymous interior ministry official told AFP.

“In Ramadi, it is similar – some areas are controlled by ISIS,” the official continued. The other parts of the city are controlled by “tribesmen,” likely a reference to the Sahwa (“the Awakening”), the tribal militia that with US backing ejected al Qaeda from control of large areas of Anbar between 2006 and 2009.

In Fallujah, ISIS fighters stormed the main police headquarters, freed more than 100 prisoners, and seized weapons and ammunition. “Other police stations in the city were torched by fighters as most police abandoned their posts,” Al Jazeera reported.

Iraqi special forces are said to be battling ISIS fighters in Fallujah and Ramadi. The status of nearby cities and towns is not known, but the ISIS has been active in cities such as Haditha, where in March 2012 a large force attacked police stations and executed policemen and their commanders. The ISIS has also staged raids in other cities such as Hit and Rawa.

Ramadi and Fallujah, sizeable cities with populations of several hundred thousand each, once served as the hubs for al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor of the ISIS. From 2004 to early 2007, large areas of the two cities were either controlled by al Qaeda or were contested. The Awakening and US and Iraqi forces waged a protracted counterinsurgency to clear al Qaeda from the two cities as well as from surrounding cities and towns along the Euphrates River Valley.

The ISIS has been targeting Iraqi security forces as well as the Awakening in a series of high-profile suicide assaults and bombings in Anbar. Just two weeks ago, the ISIS killed the commanding general of the 7th Division, one of the division’s brigade commanders, and 16 staff officers and soldiers in a suicide attack in Rutbah. The ISIS set a trap for the division commander as he toured an area thought to have been cleared of the terror group. The 7th Division is made up primarily of soldiers and officers from Anbar province.

Al Qaeda regaining control of areas in Iraq it lost during the surge

The ISIS has had success in regaining control of areas of Iraq that it lost during combined US and Iraqi counterinsurgency operations from 2007 to 2009. A map recently produced by Reuters shows that the ISIS controls villages and towns along the Euphrates River and the border with Syria as well as in the desert in Anbar, in areas south of Baghdad, in the Hamrin Mountains in Diyala and Salahaddin, and in numerous areas in Ninewa [map is below].

When the Reuters map is compared with maps produced in 2008 by Multinational Forces – Iraq that show al Qaeda control in Iraq in 2006 [leftmost map] at the height of the organization’s strength in the country, and 2008 [center map] after the group was driven from many of its sanctuaries, al Qaeda’s resurgence becomes clear.

The ISIS began retaking control of areas in Iraq after the US withdrew military, intelligence, and logistical support from the Iraqi military and intelligence services and abandoned its support of the Awakening in December 2011. The Syrian civil war and a political standoff between Prime Minister Maliki and Sunnis in Anbar have also fueled the resurgence of al Qaeda in Iraq.

In Syria, the ISIS and the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda’s other branch in Syria, and allied Islamist groups from the Islamic Front control large areas in the northern and eastern portions of the country.


For a larger image, click the map. Left and center maps: these two maps were produced by MNF-I in 2008 to show how al Qaeda was driven from its sanctuaries during the surge. Dark red indicates control; light red indicates presence. Right map: this map was produced by Reuters in December 2013.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • mike says:

    What a shame…American lives and treasure lost in support of an inept, corrupt central administration , which because of nepotism, tribalism and money loses influence in local areas – which themselves are rife with nepotism, tribalism and corruption.
    Plus, the Malaki adminsitration has the audacity to not sign the SOF, and being in bed with Iran has let the Wahabi-supported tribes along the border with Syria begin to regain power which was crushed by the US just a few years ago.
    IMO – as crazy Joe Biden recommende to much scorn – we should have let Iraq devolve into three seperate provinces, and made deals with each of them individually

  • DR says:

    Too much American blood was spilled in both of these cesspools to allow AQ to regain control. Get the drones up and flying and target anything with a black flag. Let them have no rest and know no peace until their minds are cleared of the silly jihadi way of life.

  • Matt says:

    The next few years are going to be rough for so many who see the world they want to see and not the world as it is. Hopefully the next President and the country will survive it and be better off for it.

  • etudiant says:

    Did not the USMC clean up Fallujah a few years back?
    Apparently no hearts or minds were changed.
    Do we want to do it again and hope for better results?

  • Ayamo says:

    Is this payback for Syria? As Assad’s forces slowly grind their way towards victory, some of the fighters melt back into Iraq to cause havoc there …

  • BobbyD says:

    Maliki has ordered for the army to go back into the cities.

  • Joseph says:

    So now what?

  • DonM says:

    Lets be clear on the SOF. It could have been signed, including with US Troop immunity, with the Prime Minister Maliki as a binding executive agreement. But the Obama administration demanded the agreement by passed as an act of the Iraqi Parliament – where it was known it would not pass. The point of the demand for legislative approval was to scuttle the agreement in a way that provided Obama plausible deniability for the fault. That is why many administration critics, who see through the rouse, blame the Obama Administration for the consequences resulting from no SOF agreement, no US presence, and minimal influence.
    Maliki responded to the US withdrawal, as if jilted, and got closer to the Iranians and more important Iranian backed factions, rejecting Sunni ovatures as a consequence. Many Sunni’s, left out of the power base, and utterly abandoned by the US have shifted to Al Queda.

  • ADLER says:

    I think we could use a couple of AC-130s on 24-hour patrols over these cities. Or B-52s.

  • My2Cents says:

    I hate to say this, but I am hardly surprised.

    Now the question is how the Iraqis respond. 2014 should be an election year for them, so will they vote the obvious incompetents out or not?

    Can Morsi make an even more blatantly fixed election stand?

    At least the Coalition is well clear of Iraq. Hopefully they will take advantage of Karzia’s antics to get clear of Afghanistan as well. Then stand back, shake our heads, and go tut-tut as the both meltdown.

  • wtg says:

    Sad news indeed! My heart goes out to the courageous Marines and Soldiers who fought there. And prayers for the families of those we lost.
    It is time the US went to Value Based Billing! Any further action(s) in Iraq and/or Afganistan will need to be paid for by the country involved if we are going to go fix their wagons. So if we go hot in Iraq, we pump their oil until all our bills get paid.

  • DonM says:

    I want to share an article written by Fredrick W. Kagan who is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. The publish data is Sept 10, 2007 in the on-line version of the Weekly Standard where he was a contributing editor. I found this article the absolutely most informative I have ever read pertaining to the Iraq Surge, the Awakening, AQI, going to the heart of the matter. It is an excellent back drop to the ominous news of an AQI (or now ISIS) resurgence in Iraq.

  • Virmont says:

    The resurgence of ISIS removes any doubt that large percentage of Iraqi Sunnis collaborate with or accept ISIS and very few actively resist it.
    Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi must be feeling unmitigated satisfaction.

  • sundoesntrise says:

    Al Qaeda in Iraq took a massive beating by the U.S. in the surge and by Iraqi forces in the years afterward. Ever since the surge, the results have been obvious, and that’s that yes, AQI still exists, but they seem to be quite dwindled. Even now in 2014, you see the type of vehicles they are riding in, which is pathetic compared to the arsenal AQ has in other parts of the world.
    The maps are also interesting to view as well. AQI compared to other affiliates has always been known to not control many parts of Iraq. Bill, regarding the 2013 Reuters map: are you saying that the red areas actually indicate areas where AQI controls, and administers their own laws and systems? AQI seems more like bandits and mass murderers than a large, capable fighting force.

  • Jack says:

    Al Qaeda want to overcome the Shia as a matter of theology. But they will occasionally work with Shia Iran.
    The Sunni in Al Anbar are being raked over the coals by Maliki, so they have teamed up with Al Qaeda.Sure back in 2006/2007 Al Qaeda made real _____ of themselves so the Sunni eventually sided with the U.S. but since we are no longer there and they cannot rely on us, the Sunni are dealing with the greatest and most immanent threat, Shia Iraqis backed by Shia Iranians.
    If Obama had played hardball instead of slow pitch softball with Maliki when negotiating the SOFA, Maliki would not be having witch hunts of Sunni nor turning his nose up at power sharing.
    All this started when candidate Obma announce he would pull out troops. When he won Maliki waited to see if he meant it. He did. So Maliki was a real ___ when it came time to negotiate the SOFA.
    Obama built this. This is exactly what I expected over 5 years ago.

  • Frank Galton says:

    Arabic media are saying that the government-aligned tribes have killed the head of the Iraq branch of Isis, Abdulrahman al-Baghdadi
    See front page of Al-Arabiya (direct link doesn’t paste properly).

  • Froggy says:

    Well, that deployment was a waste of time and an unnecessary risk to my life and limb. What an abortion.

  • Rossonero says:

    The Economist had a good article on Iraq a couple months ago. Al-Maliki asked Washington for more weapons in late 2013, but he does not need weapons — he needs to show proper governance.
    Al-Maliki has alienated Sunnis and Al Qaeda has wisely capitalized on this. They have gained the support of the people in these Sunni areas, where the mostly Shi’ite government have used poor tactics such as mass arrests and abusing people.
    I hate to say it, but I don’t see a bright future for Iraq. Al-Maliki must go. Until the Iraqi government learns how to cooperate, the country will spiral back into chaos.

  • KalashniKEV says:

    1) It’s called a SOFA. SOF is something else.
    2) This is no surprise at all- these are *our* Safwa forces who have since taken off their PT belts after American dollars stopped raining from the sky. They aren’t blow-up-the-WTC/ transnational jihadi al Qaeda types, they are just looking out for their (Sunni) interests in the face of a corrupt Iranian influenced regime that targets their representatives in government (al Hashemi, members of parliament) for arrest and inevitable execution rather than allow them to control a minority fraction of the Iraqi government. They have access to $/fighters/weapons through al Qaeda and the Wahhabist networks… obviously they are going to use them.
    3) The only valid way to put a SOFA in place was to push it through the government we helped organize. Maliki didn’t’ feel “jilted” at all. He gave us the boot- and even cited Wikileaks in doing so.
    4) Why not include an ethno-graphic to accompany the al Qaeda one? Al Qaeda “left” Baghdad when the Sunnis fled their homes to escape the attacks of the corrupt Shi’ite National Police. JSG “took over,” but there wasn’t anyone left to fight. OPN FaQ/ BSP was “successful” in driving out Sunnis to pacify the city. Oh, and Tariq al Hashemi’s PSD were the real sectarian killers… ridiculous!

  • Bungo says:

    A preview of what will occur in Afghanistan?

  • John says:

    I don’t think we should think that our involvement in Iraq fixed everything. The fighting between the Sunni and Shia was going on long before the US and will continue long after.

  • Kyle says:

    With all of the ‘illegal” drone strikes this country takes part in why not drop about 300 JDAMS on their parade. Pieces of garbage, they cut women’s heads off for going to school.

  • Henrik says:

    Frank Galton: I can locate no article saying Baghdadi was killed on alarabiyas homepage.
    Iraq News does claim the leader os ISIS was killed. They call him Abu Abdul Rahman al Baghdadi, however. Probably a lower-level leader who got mixed up with the overall ISIS boss.

  • William Fenwick says:

    From the videos i’ve seen, it doesn’t look like any heavy weaponry other than a couple of 20 or 30 mm flak cannons are being used by ISIS in these engagements. It seems like ISIS is saving their prime-material (like their armored vehicles) for the Syrian front. Should the ISIS positions in Syria become more stabilized, i would expect the situation in Iraq will become drastically worse as men and heavy weaponry are transferred into the Iraqi theater, though this will be somewhat countered by various new combat aircraft being deployed by the Iraqi airforce as time goes on.

  • M3fd2002 says:

    Lets not get caught up on semantics. Regardless, if we call them isis, isil, al qaeda, al nusra, etc. these people are a major player in the current middle east. Iraq will most probably be split into shia, sunni, and kurd enclaves, along with syria. In the long run, i believe it is best. What can the usa do? Not much. The reality in the current middle east is: institutional hatred, culminating from decades of programing their children to hate. There is no need to get involved anymore, its a lost cause. In short :m3fd2002 doctrine. The usa doesn’t need arab oil anymore. If they attack us, level what ever infrastructure they have, and don’t rebuild it. When they turn on a light, blast the power plants and desalination plants, again. They will get the message. IMHO

  • EDDIED. says:

    Iraq wanted the USA out so we left and, now look at what is happening in Iraq. Iraq you deserve everything AQ gives you. Our US troops should have never dropped a single drop of blood or sweat in your sorry country. Knowing you can’t handle AQ I sure hope you don’t want the USA troops to return because, I am afraid the USA would, now that we are leaving Afghanistan.

  • Dusty Poo says:

    KalashniKEV, That’s a theory not based in reality. Make sure you tie these ideas into some verifiable source.
    For instance, to say these are former Safwa fighters fighting for their home might sound logical, but I don’t see any facts to support this.
    There’s a lot of passionate knee jerking about lost American blood, but lets wait a few days to see who’s who and what’s what.

  • NP says:

    I have heard reports of tribesmen and former Awakening members resisting ISIL in Ramadi and Fallujah. I don’t think ISIL will find much support among the locals there even if they are angry with Maliki. The memory of atrocities and the continued murder of Awakening leaders are still too fresh.
    It appears ISIL is awash in fresh weapons and fighters as a result of our botched intervention in Libya and the war in Syria. The organization is fighting on at least two fronts and doesn’t look any worse for wear. I hope the Administration is taking notice, we have a problem.
    The Sunni’s in Iraq should be very careful what they do next. This could be an excellent opportunity to co-operate with Maliki and fight ISIL together. This would give them leverage with the government.
    How will Iran respond if Iraq is thrown into civil war again?

  • ISIS says:

    this is sound of Khilafah..Soldiers of Allah are can not stop them..! Victory will be Islam..we are ready to defend our religion Islam which is religion of all Prebhets (May Allah peace be upon all of them) including Isa Massiah son of Maryam..Who will lead Muslim army for the last battle or end of the battle against Dajjal (Anti-Christ) Allah’s willing..This calling are universal..leave fake god, gods and believe and obey ONE ALLAH who is creater of all things who is only not be not be tool of Devil that with you and whistblower you to war against ALLAH religion..because He has kicked out from Heaven for humanbeing..all of us ancestor Adam (peace be upon him)..this war is not conquer or kill people this war between Allah’s suporters and Devil or Shaitan..I swear ALLAH (s.w.t) you are be deceived by Devil..If you really want to save your hereafter become Muslim it mean literally to obey Allah oneness and pray only him then Insha’Allah -Allah’s willing He sent you his Heavens which is the eternal happiness..

  • mkswear says:

    Any ideas on where the new Toyota’s came from?

  • My blood is still in the sand of Iraq says:

    ISIS, My reply…..Yawn!

  • Matt says:

    Energy security years ago not only could al-Maliki have dictated the terms for any residual force immunity etc. But now the US would have to send troops. But both the Bush and Obama Administrations concentrated on energy security, independence. As we are not reliant on Iraq energy we have no strategic obligation to get involved. Them days are over, no sand on the boots.

  • Alex says:

    Is ISIS’s comment the new version of Remove Kebab? I ask because sometimes you can’t tell if these guys are trolling or if they are really that whacked out.
    “do not be sad”
    It’s too late. I’m very sad now.
    “He has kicked out from Heaven for humanbeing”
    Oh no, anything but that!

  • blert says:

    Matt, America was NEVER reliant on Iraqi crude, ever.
    OPEC’s clout is derived because it’s the primary source for Red China, Nationalist China, Japan, Korea and India.
    MUCH of their crude oil consumption is merely displaced American consumption. This is energy that works its way into products that we import en masse from all points in Asia.
    Their distress becomes our distress.
    BTW, Japan is the single largest beneficiary of Barry’s soft stance for Tehran. All these many years, Japan has been permitted to purchase, without sanction, crude oil from Iran. This tie-up started way-way-way back when the Shah was running the show.
    When Japan had to limbo down its Iranian imports — the timing was terrible — for Japan. The Fukushima Daiichi atomic disaster has compelled Japan to shut down all of its atomic plants — to buy liquid fuels in grand style. It’s so bad that Tokyo has had to go all the way to rationed electric power! IIRC, this rationing has only abated recently.
    For lack of electric power, residents have had to import LNG at a crazy tempo — primarily to just heat their stoves and homes. Their landed cost is eight-times that of American natural gas.(!)
    The second biggest winner is Korea. Like Japan, Korea had to limbo down its Iranian imports.
    Red China was cheating all the way through — while driving the Iranians crazy with brutal deal making. For Beijing, prices will actually start to climb.
    India is pretty happy, too. She has the world’s largest refinery complex on her western coast. (Twins) They get a huge slug of their crude from Iran — as the whole scheme was set up to process Iranian crude. No small amount is back-shipped to Iran as refined gasoline. Most of Iran’s gasoline comes from India and Red China. (Same game for both) This works out for both Red China and India because they have an outsized need for Diesel/ middle distillates — gasoline — not so much.
    (Red China uses very large amounts of CNG for autos — particularly its taxi fleet. In contrast, Diesel fuels are PRICE CONTROLLED so the farmers actually get subsidized fuel.
    India also has price controls on Diesel to keep her farmers happy, too.
    This explains why rises in OPEC pricing don’t seem to have any impact on Chinese or Indian imports. Their biggest consumers don’t feel a thing.)

    Should OPEC fall into the hands of a hostile power, ALL of America’s friends would have to kowtow to the new Lord of the Planet. It’s really that simple. Our standard of living — indeed many critical factory processes — would take a HUGE and immediate hit.
    America can’t be a disinterested observer of the Gulf. Don’t kid yourself.

  • Blippitt says:

    @Bungo, It certainly could be. Only time will tell, it seems.


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