Fallujah and Ramadi, cities in Iraq well-known to Americans because of their roles in the Sunni insurgency against the U.S.-led war, were taken over recently by al- Qaida linked Islamic extremists. It would be sheer folly to view the occupation as nothing more than the actions of a ragtag group.
The Islamic State in Iraq and Levant is also one of the strongest rebel units in Syria, and on Saturday it claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing in a Shiite-dominated neighborhood in Lebanon.
In Syria, ISIL has imposed a strict version of Islamic law in territories it holds and kidnaps and kills anyone it deems critical of its rule.
In Iraq, the Anbar province police officers had left the center of the city of Fallujah and positioned themselves on the edge of town.
“The walls of the city are in the hands of the police force, but the people of Fallujah are the prisoners of ISIL,” said Hadi Razeij, head of the Anbar province police force.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the capital Baghdad said government forces would press on to clear Anbar of the militants.
“There will be no retreat until we eliminate this gang and rid the people of Anbar of their evil acts,” al-Maliki said last week. “The people of Anbar asked the government for help; they called us to come to rescue them from terrorists.”
The Obama administration has rightly characterized the al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists as “our common enemy” and says it is working with Iraqi authorities and tribes allied against ISIL.
The ability of terrorist groups to gain footholds in countries in the Middle East that have weak central governments is cause for concern for the United States and its allies.
Too many lives have been lost and too much money has been spent since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan to let those who would do us harm re-establish a presence.
Al-Qaida established a branch in Iraq after the 2003 invasion by coalition forces led by the U.S., which resulted in the ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein.
The Bush administration at the time justified the military action by contending that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction that he planned to use against Israel and other friends of the United States.
No such weapons were found.
The Sunni insurgency against American troops and the Iraqi government opened the door to anti-government groups affiliated with terrorist organizations in the region.
Although a form of democracy has been established, the sectarian battles between the Shiites and Sunnis have kept the country in a state of flux.
That’s why the occupation of Fallujah and Ramadi is of such significance. It isn’t just the stability of Iraq that’s at stake but the future of war-torn Afghanistan, which is contending with Taliban extremists and al-Qaida affiliates, and Syria, which is in the grips of a civil war.
The U.S. and its allies should declare war on the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant and go after the leadership, just as the Obama administration has done with al-Qaida.
Fallujah became notorious among Americans when insurgents in 2004 killed four American security contractors and hung their burned bodies from a bridge. It, Ramadi and other cities remained battlegrounds for the following years, as sectarian bloodshed mounted, with Shiite militias killing Sunnis, the Associated Press reported.