Thousands of people have fled from the Iraqi city of Fallujah as the government army attempts to recapture it from Islamist rebel control.
Fallujah has been under the control of Isis (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), a militant Islamist group linked to al-Qaeda, since the group took the city in allegiance with Sunni tribal fighters in January. Since then, there has been continuous violence as the government has attempted to regain control. Now, the tens of thousands of troops have been assembled at Fallujah. In the wake of artillery bombardment, it is estimated that around 300,000 people have fled.
Isis and other insurgent groups have extensive experience in guerilla-style street fighting. In order to counter this, state forces seem to be relying heavily on shelling and bombing. The army denies the use of heavy bombardment or the use of “barrel bombs”, large containers filled with explosives and dropped from helicopters, notoriously used by government troops in Syria. However, residents of Fallujah say that they have seen the technique used repeatedly, resulting in much destruction.
Isis has conducted suicide bombings and raids in other areas of Iraq, many of them proclaimed as “revenge” actions for the government’s assault on Fallujah. Isis targets Shia Muslims (a majority in the country) as heretics, and many of its attacks have been against Shia civilians. The group was able to capitalise on the Shia-dominated character of the government to gain support in some Sunni areas.
In the absence of a strong democratic, left-wing and secular movement, Iraqi politics is being dragged into an increasingly murderous feud between Islamist reactionaries of different denominations.