Violence Reverses Gains in Iraq

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from The Wall Street Journal,

A flurry of recent attacks by al Qaeda-linked militants in Iraq—strengthened by their alliance with jihadist fighters in Syria—is threatening to undo years of U.S. efforts to crush the group, widening sectarian conflict in the Middle East.

The chaos across the border in Syria and Iraqi Sunnis’ feeling of discrimination under the Shiite-led government has reignited the kind of intense sectarian strife that brought Iraq to the verge of civil war in 2006-2007. A security vacuum left by the withdrawal of American combat troops in December 2011 is also helping the fighters regain a foothold.

The civilian death toll so far this year is nearly double last year’s, up to over 5,700 from at least 3,200. In July 2013 alone, 1,057 people were killed—the deadliest month for Iraqis in five years.

Iraqi security officials say al Qaeda-linked fighters from the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, are moving aggressively to re-establish a base of operations in Anbar province, the stronghold of the Sunni insurgency during the U.S.-led war.

If the extremists succeed, they would undo one of the hardest-fought gains of U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies. By the time of the U.S. pullout at the end of 2011, the insurgency had been significantly weakened, in large part by a U.S. alliance with moderate Sunni tribesmen.

“This is a strategic goal for ISIS to control the western part of Iraq,” said Ammar Tou’ma, a member of the Iraqi parliament’s security and defense committee. “In 2005 and 2006, they were controlling on the ground and used some areas as bases and training camps for their members and as a safe haven to carry out operations.”

Sparsely populated Anbar province, with its majority Sunni population, sits on the porous frontier with Syria and borders Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

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