In Western Iraq, Fundamentalists Hold U.S. at Bay

by John F. Burns and Erik Eckholt New York Times
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 28 – While American troops have been battling Islamic militants to an uncertain outcome in Najaf, the Shiite holy city, events in two Sunni Muslim cities that stand astride the crucial western approaches to Baghdad have moved significantly against American plans to build a secular democracy in Iraq.

Both of the cities, Falluja and Ramadi, and much of Anbar Province, are now controlled by fundamentalist militias, with American troops confined mainly to heavily protected forts on the desert’s edge. What little influence the Americans have is asserted through wary forays in armored vehicles, and by laser-guided bombs that obliterate enemy safe houses identified by scouts who penetrate militant ranks. Even bombing raids appear to strengthen the fundamentalists, who blame the Americans for scores of civilian deaths.

American efforts to build a government structure around former Baath Party stalwarts – officials of Saddam Hussein’s army, police force and bureaucracy who were willing to work with the United States – have collapsed. Instead, the former Hussein loyalists, under threat of beheadings, kidnappings and humiliation, have mostly resigned or defected to the fundamentalists, or been killed. Enforcers for the old government, including former Republican Guard officers, have put themselves in the service of fundamentalist clerics they once tortured at Abu Ghraib. full article

This article reflects the disastrous situation. It also fails to make explicit the difference between these Sunni fundamentalists and al Sadr, who is neither Sunni nor particularly fundamentalist. The press is fond of calling him a ‘firebrand’ and ‘rebel’ and ‘radical’ a la Hugo Chavez, but the fact is that at the end of the day, he is viewed as a heroic freedom-fighter by the large majority of Iraqis, who are not a fundamentalist people by and large. The alliance between the former Republican Guards and the fundamentalists is a toxic mix, and apparently while everyone was focusing on Sadr and Najaf, this crew gained control of a large part of the country.

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