Al Qaeda Is Taking Over Whole Cities in Iraq

Late last month, the Iraqi cities of Ramadi and Fallujah fell to tribal militants linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a homegrown franchise of al Qaeda.

After taking the cities, the militants—who are understood to be locals of Anbar, the Sunni province where both Ramadi and Fallujah are located—hoisted black al Qaeda flags over government buildings and police stations. Their assault followed the Shiite-led government ignoring Sunni protests for reforms that would put them on par with their Shiite countrymen, and came just days after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered security forces to clear a Sunni protest camp amid claims that it had become an ISIS headquarters.

In response to the takeover of Fallujah and the militants’ partial control of Ramadi, Maliki forged a deal with some of Anbar’s prominent tribal leaders and sheikhs, convincing them to work with the Iraqi army to secure the two citiesAhmed Abu Reesha, a Sunni tribal chief aligned with Maliki, claimed on Saturday that these pro-government tribes have reclaimed most of Ramadi and said that the “next battle will be in Fallujah.”

"Ramadi, in many respects, has been far less significant in terms of actual presence of ISIS," said Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center. “But, in Fallujah, the situation is far more complicated, because tribes appear to be split down the middle. Some are linked with ISIS and the other half have decided to side with the security forces.”