Falluja Sunni tribes rise up but ISIS reasserts authority

Friday 26/02/2016
A 2015 file picture shows Iraqi Sunni fighters resting after a fight against Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Diyala province.

Baghdad - The Islamic State (ISIS) re­asserted its authority over Iraq’s jihadist bastion of Falluja following a rebel­lion by Sunni tribesmen that had signalled critical resist­ance to the militants’ two-year rule over the city.
ISIS detained up to 200 men af­ter the fighting ended late February 20th, officials and residents said, pointing to growing fears that the militants would punish those sus­pected of taking part in the brief show of defiance.
“It’s the worst time for Daesh in Falluja,” Colonel Mahmoud al-Ju­maili, commander of the Popular Mobilisation Forces in Falluja, told The Arab Weekly, using ISIS’s Ara­bic acronym.
“The rebellion made ISIS nerv­ous and we’re concerned that it will commit atrocities in Falluja by ex­ecuting the detainees.”
Anxiousness spread to inside Fal­luja, where a tribesman told The Arab Weekly via social media that residents appealed to Iraq’s Shia-dominated central government in Baghdad for a quick military inter­vention to prevent a “bloodbath” in Falluja. Government officials de­clined to comment.
“If the army doesn’t support us, we will be slaughtered quietly,” said Majeed al-Juraisi, whose al-Juraisat tribe led the two-day revolt.
Clashes spearheaded by three Sunni Arab tribes in Falluja, 50km west of Baghdad, and, along with Mosul, one of two major Iraqi cit­ies in the north controlled by ISIS, marked an uprising that threatened the jihadists’ continued existence in the city, residents told The Arab Weekly by telephone.
A concentrated and sustained up­rising poses a significant threat to the estimated 400 jihadists in Fal­luja, a city in the vast western Iraqi desert province of Anbar, which is home to many Sunni Arab tribes critical of the Baghdad government.
Successive Iraqi governments, dominated by rival Shias, ostra­cised Sunnis on the grounds that many were insurgents or former members of Iraq’s disbanded Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party of dictator Saddam Hussein. Sunni Arab tribes­men from Anbar province played a key role in driving back al-Qaeda in Iraq after joining forces with US troops in 2006.
The uprising against ISIS marked a turning point in the relationship between some Sunni tribes who had once welcomed the jihadists into Falluja and other cities as a means to exact revenge on Bagh­dad.
However, Falluja residents played down the allegiance factor, saying only a handful of tribesmen backed ISIS and that, in general, the city feared the militants who killed scores of opponents and were bru­tal rulers.
“Those who dared speak out against them were executed,” said Yousef al-Mahamda, 32, a tribes­man fighting militants in Falluja.
He said: “ISIS’s days are num­bered in Falluja. They ruined our lives, stole our wealth and drove us to absolute poverty and complete despair.”
Mahamda and other residents said the uprising was led by al-Ju­raisat tribe and included the Ma­hamdas and the al-Halabsas, add­ing that the Juraisats planned the operations, collected the weapons and enlisted fighters.
The February 19th shoot-out in Falluja pitted some 1,000 fight­ers from three tribes against ISIS. Fighting broke out between tribes­men and ISIS members called al- Hesba, who are responsible for enforcing a strict version of Islam, Mahamda said.
Outside Falluja, the Iraqi Army launched aerial attacks and pound­ed districts with missiles from tanks, an Iraqi army colonel said. He insisted on anonymity, citing standing regulations that bar him from speaking to the media.
Iraqi police said fighting intensi­fied in central and northern Falluja, where tribesmen torched an ISIS checkpoint on the outskirts of a northern district.
The fight began in Al-Jolan on the north-western side of the city and spread to Nazzal in its centre and Al-Askari on the eastern side, the colonel explained.
Mahamda said the battle indi­cates growing tensions resulting from increasingly difficult living conditions caused by Falluja’s iso­lation by the Iraqi Army. Anbar Governor Sohaib al-Rawi said the situation “has reached a state of famine”.
An estimated 120,000 people are trapped in Falluja.
There were various accounts on how the fighting started. Some resi­dents said it began after Al-Hesba accused a woman in al-Nizaiza mar­ket in central Falluja of “miscon­duct”, allegedly for failing to cover her hands with gloves.
Sheikh Majeed al-Juraisi, a leader of the Al-Juraisat tribe, said tribes­men seized part of Al-Jolan and urged the Baghdad government and security forces to help in the fight.
Citing intelligence informa­tion, the Interior Ministry said the clashes began as a fight between al- Juraisat tribesmen and the Hesba in al-Nizaiza market. It escalated into a shoot-out and the Mahamdas and the Halabasa backed Juraisat fight­ers, the ministry said.
ISIS took control of Falluja in June 2014, when the Iraqi Army ca­pitulated in several cities during an intense ISIS attack.
Tribesmen have played a key role in holding the jihadists back in mul­tiple areas, including Haditha in Anbar, Amerli in Salaheddin prov­ince and Dhuluiyah in Diyala.