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Iraqis continue fight against al-Qaida in Anbar province

January 19, 2014 at 5:19 PM EDT
The battle between Iraqi tribesmen and al-Qaida forces continued this weekend in the western province of Anbar. What does the situation on the ground look like? Hari Sreenivasan is joined by the Washington Post’s Loveday Morris from Baghdad via Skype to discuss the ongoing violence in the towns of Ramadi and Fallujah.

HARI SREENIVASAN: We want to return now to the battle waged against al-Qaida forces in Ramadi. For more we’re joined now via Skype from Baghdad by Loveday Morris of the Washington Post. Loveday, I know it’s about 60 miles away. What’s the scene in Ramadi and Fallujah and those areas now?

LOVEDAY MORRIS: Well, from talking to people on the ground there today, what we’re hearing this morning was that Ramadi, which is the provincial capitol, was put under a curfew. This morning people were told not to leave their homes. The city was on lock-down and then a large assault was launched to retake pockets of the city that are still under control of rebel groups and fighters affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, which is the local al-Qaida affiliate. Most Ramadi already was under control of pro-government tribesmen, but there were some pockets that were out of their control. So this was a large offensive backed by helicopters trying to regain parts of the city.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And these are mostly Sunni tribesmen?

LOVEDAY MORRIS: Yes, Anbar is a largely Sunni province. Iraq is majority Shia, but the western province of Anbar is majority Sunni. So these are Sunni tribesmen and not naturally pro-government really. The tribesmen in Anbar have been leading protests against the government for the past year or so. But when Al Qaeda came into the cities and took control, a lot of them see the government as probably the lesser of two evils. So they’ve been almost forced to side with the government to rid their towns of these militants.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So you said helicopters. Are we talking full gun ships, machine guns and there are troops on the ground working with these tribesmen as well in this attack?

LOVEDAY MORRIS: Well, the army’s very much staying out of it. The army is seen by a lot of the tribes as being sectarian force. It’s quite inflammatory for the army to go in and try to take these towns. So the tribesmen are the ones doing the fighting but they are backed up by air power from the Iraqi military. The Iraqi military took delivery of some Russian helicopter gunships so those are the ones being used.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And has Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ruled out all out assault?

LOVEDAY MORRIS: Ramadi is looking very much under control and the tribesmen I talked to there today actually said this offensive has been quite successful. And they’re claiming that the city is now entirely back in their control. Fallujah is a completely different question. There we really haven’t seen any real engagement to rid Fallujah, the center of Fallujah, of these militants. there has been pockets of fighting on the outside. But there, yes, Maliki’s ruled out the army getting in. At the moment, he’s saying he’s leaving it up to the tribes to rid the town of these militants. But at the moment they’re not actually engaging militarily. It’s very much negotiations

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Loveday Morris of the Washington Post, joining us from Baghdad via Skype. Thanks so much.

LOVEDAY MORRIS: No problem, thank you.