How many wives did Emperor Anbar have
The battle for Al-Anbar
The street of the olives in Abu Ghraib is deserted. Just in front of the building of the Faculty of Agriculture, a spin-off from the University of Baghdad, a handful of students quickly move towards the entrance. The factory next door, which was once Iraq's largest milk production facility, is also deserted.
Surely the inhabitants are afraid of Daesh, is the first thought. The Arabic word for the terrorist militia Islamic State (IS) has been on everyone's lips for a year now. Fear and horror have dominated since the sinister jihadists attacked the land between the Tigris and Euphrates and proclaimed their own state. They want to defend this now, and it happens with brute force.
“No, no,” said a uniform at the checkpoint, “it's not because of Daesh that nobody is in sight.” The young man points to the sky, where the sun is at its zenith at noon and almost 40 degrees in the shade on the ground to rule. Abu Ghraib is the first city in Al-Anbar Province when traveling west from Baghdad. She has been attacked by IS several times. The infamous prison has always been the goal.
In July 2013, 500 prisoners who belonged to the hard core of al-Qaeda were liberated. First they escaped to Syria, report residents of Fallujah. There they were integrated into the Daesh command structure and returned to their homeland at the beginning of last year. Now they would rule the city together with Tunisian and French IS fighters.
Fallujah has been in the hands of Daesh since the beginning of 2014. With the offensive launched two days ago, the terrorist militia has now also brought the provincial capital Ramadi under its control.
In order to get to Brigadier General Ali Abdul Hussein Khadim, a total of eleven checkpoints have to be passed, even though his headquarters are only 50 kilometers from Baghdad. Another 30 kilometers to Ramadi. The black IS flag has been flying there on the governor's palace since Sunday evening. It appears that Daesh is seeking revenge for the expulsion from Tikrit in late March. Should the lost capital of the province of Salahuddin now be exchanged for the provincial capital of Ramadi?
Al-Anbar, Iraq's largest province, had been an IS stronghold from the start. The estimates ranged from 60 to 80 percent of the territory they controlled. But now 90 percent should be in their hands. Only Abu Ghraib was spared.
On Monday morning Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi gave the order to send Shiite militias to fight for Ramadi. At lunchtime, the checkpoints are already mixed. Sunnis and Shiites serve together. This was not originally planned, because in the Al-Anbar province, which is predominantly Sunni, the Shiites have not suffered well.
This has to do with the former Shiite head of government Nuri al-Maliki, who increasingly excluded his Sunni compatriots from the political process and even filled key positions in the army with Shiites in particular. The peaceful protests, which lasted more than a year, were ignored and their demands ignored. Eventually the Sunni forces in Al-Anbar allied themselves with the radicals in Daesh against the government in Baghdad. The fight for the province was declared a Sunni cause. But the situation is so serious that the prime minister now wants to use all available forces.
However, he seems to be aware of the explosiveness of his decision. In order not to let the religious conflict flare up again, large posters were put up in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in the province to prepare the inhabitants for the presence of the Shiite militias: "We serve all Iraqis," proclaim the Shiite clergy, Grand Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani and Sayed Ammar al-Hakim. Prime Minister Abadi is also doing everything possible to prevent the situation from escalating again. When members of a Shiite militia set fire in the Sunni district of Adamija in Baghdad last week, the Shiite prime minister was immediately on hand to mediate.
In 2006/07 and 2008 there were bloody clashes between the two religious groups, especially in the Iraqi capital, in what is widely referred to as a civil war. Thousands have been killed, hundreds of thousands have fled. Now the members of the extremist IS are trying to revive the old conflict by labeling the Shiites as infidels who need to be killed.
Back in Al-Anbar, the general comes back from an inspection of the section of the front for which he is responsible. Germa is five kilometers from Fallujah. Everything behind it is Daesh land or the “caliphate”, as IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi calls it, reminding of the Sunni archetype of a state.
It's quiet, reports the 46-year-old brigade commander of the Iraqi army, who is 1.68 meters tall and briefly takes off his purple beret. A shaved head appears underneath, only a strip of hair remains in the middle. “It's more practical like that,” he says tiredly, “it's still pretty hot out there.” While the air conditioning is buzzing in his office, the sun hits the idyllic garden that the commander and his officers have created for themselves. Birds chirp in the open cage, two ostriches proudly run around, cats roam, a rooster crows in broad daylight. The entire surreality of war is gathered in these few square meters.
Ali Abdul Hussein Khadim commands the Al-Muthanna Brigade, one of the five army units stationed around Baghdad to protect the capital. Of all the defenders of the capital, he has the most difficult job. Its territory extends from the outskirts of Baghdad (Amiria) to Germa, a suburb of Fallujah, where the front line with IS runs.
Khadim has to protect Abu Ghraib and the international airport, also a popular target for IS terrorists. His predecessor was killed in the fighting. All in all, however, Daesh's combat actions are rather weak from a military point of view, says Khadim. The propaganda is the strongest they have to offer.
This also explains the repeated running away of soldiers from the Iraqi army, which is now happening again in Ramadi. Rumors had spread that 10,000 IS fighters were coming over from Syria. Then almost a thousand Iraqi soldiers saw themselves defenseless and ran away.
"They entrench themselves in the houses of civilians who have fled in fear, go around groups of people and throw explosives or place snipers on buildings," the general describes Daesh's tactics. Khadim also speaks of chlorine gas that IS is using. Some of his soldiers have already choked on it. That stirs up the fear in the troops even more.
To belittle the opponent is a tactic and strengthens the morale of the troops. It is estimated that half of the soldiers in the Iraqi army have now deserted, as can be clearly seen from the strength of Kadhim's troops. The brigade consists of 3,462 soldiers from the Iraqi regular army and 3,186 Shiite volunteers who want to fight the Sunni terrorist organization. Even if the general emphatically emphasizes that Sunnis and Christians can also be found in his ranks, the Shiites outnumber him by far.
On the drive back to Baghdad, the Habanija military base attracts attention. Young recruits should have been sworn in there on Monday lunchtime. But that failed: The ceremony fell victim to the fight for Ramadi.
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