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Bloody Iraq: Syrian Spillover, Regional Fear

Iraq in trouble again. Al Qaeda spillover from Syria, now in Fallujah, Ramadi, Anbar Province. We’ll look at Iraq’s return to turmoil and rising region-wide upheaval.

An empty street shows burned vehicles as buildings including a provincial government building, center in the background, are seen damaged in Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. Provincial spokesman Dhari al-Rishawi said Iraqi security forces and allied tribesmen are pressing their campaign to rout al-Qaida from Fallujah and Ramadi, two main cities in the western Anbar province. (AP)

An empty street shows burned vehicles as buildings including a provincial government building, center in the background, are seen damaged in Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. Provincial spokesman Dhari al-Rishawi said Iraqi security forces and allied tribesmen are pressing their campaign to rout al-Qaida from Fallujah and Ramadi, two main cities in the western Anbar province. (AP)

The simplest telling of the news out of Iraq this week sounds bad enough.  Fallujah and parts of Ramadi – Iraqi cities that American soldiers fought and died to free – are back in the hands of al Qaeda.  The bigger picture:  that means Iraq itself is in trouble, just two years after US troops pulled out.  The still bigger picture:  the violence is in part spilling across the border from Syria’s civil war gone international.  And the biggest frame:  it’s all another uptick in an unfolding, region-wide and frightening Sunni-Shia face-off – Saudi Arabia versus Iran. This hour On Point:  Back to Fallujah.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Suadad Al-Salhy, Baghdad correspondent for Reuters. (@suadadalsalhy)

Ned Parker, independent foreign affairs reporter. Former Baghdad bureau chief for The Los Angeles Times. (@nedmparker1)

Roger Cohen, op-ed columnist for The New York Times. (@NYTimesCohen)

From Tom’s Reading List

Wall Street Journal: Scores Dead in Iraqi Battle With Al Qaeda-Linked Fighters – “The three days of fighting have left at least 21 people dead in Fallujah, including women and children, and an additional 11 dead in Ramadi, according to the Anbar Health Directorate. Many more have been injured. The assault on Fallujah, using helicopters, tanks and mortars, marks the government’s fourth attempt to retake the city since Thursday evening, when fighters loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, seized most of the town, according to the security official.”

New York Times: Power Vacuum in Middle East Lifts Militants — “The bloodshed that has engulfed Iraq, Lebanon and Syria in the past two weeks exposes something new and destabilizing: the emergence of a post-American Middle East in which no broker has the power, or the will, to contain the region’s sectarian hatreds. Amid this vacuum, fanatical Islamists have flourished in both Iraq and Syria under the banner of Al Qaeda, as the two countries’ conflicts amplify each other and foster ever-deeper radicalism. Behind much of it is the bitter rivalry of two great oil powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia, whose rulers — claiming to represent Shiite and Sunni Islam, respectively — cynically deploy a sectarian agenda that makes almost any sort of accommodation a heresy.”

Foreign Affairs: The Iraq We Left Behind — “Both Maliki and his rivals are responsible for the slow slide toward chaos, prisoners of their own history under Saddam. Iraq today is divided between once-persecuted Shiite religious parties, such as Maliki’s Dawa Party, still hungry for revenge, and secular and Sunni parties that long for a less bloody version of Saddam’s Baath Party, with its nationalist ideology and intolerance of religious and ethnic politics. Meanwhile, the Kurds maneuver gingerly around the divisions in Baghdad. Their priority is to preserve their near autonomy in northern Iraq and ward off the resurrection of a powerful central government that could one day besiege their cities and bombard their villages, as Baghdad did throughout the twentieth century.”

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