The jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have claimed they control the city of Fallujah in the volatile province of Anbar. Residents are leaving the city, avoiding the air strikes that have already begun to fall in some areas. Fallujah is known in the West as the sight of the deadliest battle of the Iraq War in 2004. Currently ISIL, tribal leaders, and government forces wrestle for control. Anbar, in the West of Iraq, has a largely Sunni population that feels marginalised and under threat from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government. Iraq’s Sunni population see Maliki’s administration as authoritarian and discriminatory, and they are worried by the examples of violent response to protests. This most recent surge in violence seems to have begun when government troops forcibly broke up a yearlong peaceful protest in Ramadi.
The first five days of 2014 have seen 250 deaths in Anbar province, more than the death toll for the entire month of January last year. This is a continuation of the violence that resulted, according to the UN, in at least 7,818 civilian deaths, and 1,050 deaths amongst the security forces in 2013, the highest in five years. Despite Maliki’s calls for locals to expel the fundamentalists; this death toll is likely to continue to rise as the government prepares to retake Fallujah, Ramadi and Tarmiya from ISIL with military support from both the US and Iran.