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The Fall of Fallujah

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Iraq: Late reporting indicates that al-Qaida-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters have begun withdrawing from Fallujah to the suburbs. This report has not been confirmed.

The government announced that it would not attack Fallujah for now in order to minimize civilian casualties. At least one source in Iraq, however, reported that government forces have low morale because they lack the supplies and equipment to mount an operation that has any prospect of success.

Meanwhile in Ramadi, also west of Baghdad, a government and tribal night operation on 6 January failed to oust Islamists from southern Ramadi, according to an army spokesman. The government force was repulsed.

Comment: The fighting in Anbar Province does not threaten the government in Baghdad. Rather it threatens to fragment Iraq, provided the Sunni tribes join the uprising in more strength than they have to date.

If confirmed, the withdrawal of the Islamists indicates they realize they cannot hold territory against more modern and better equipped forces. It also suggests they lack good intelligence on Iraqi government forces.

The ISIS-led seizure of Fallujah does not appear sustainable, but there will be more and worse troubles in Anbar. That is because the Shiite-dominated al Maliki government has disenfranchised the Sunni Arab population. Inclusiveness is not part of the Iraqi understanding of winning elections and majority rule. Thus, there will be more violence and killing.

The Sunni Arabs in Anbar are in revolt, but the second round of Iraq's civil war is just beginning.

Syria: For the record. The first batch of chemical weapons precursors was loaded aboard a ship on Tuesday. The ship sailed from the port of Latakia, Syria, with Russian and Chinese naval escorts. Neither the Syrian government nor the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons identified the chemical storage sites from which the precursors were withdrawn.

The chemical precursors will be taken to Italy, where they will be loaded onto a US Navy ship and moved to international waters for destruction in a specially created titanium tank on board.

This is the start of a process that should have been completed by 31 December. The Sunni uprising prevented Syria from meeting the 31 December target, not the Syrian government.

The start of the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons makes this a good day for Israel.

Security situation. In the past week, news services have reported fighting between opposition factions. Most of the fratricide is occurring in towns in northern Syria south of the Turkish border in a hundred mile swath from the eastern edge of the Alawite region around Latakia, on the coast, to the border of the Kurdish area in the northeast.

Most western reports stress that the main antagonist is the al-Qaida affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or al Sham (ISIS), which includes Syria and Lebanon.

What is missing in most of the press accounts is that the protagonist is not the secular fighting groups supported by the West, but the al-Nusrah Front, which comprises intolerantly devout Islamist fighters. The fighting does not appear to favor one or other group. Both have resorted to executing captured fighters from the other side by the dozens. Neither appears to be making measurable gains, except in body counts.

A difference is that the al-Nusrah Front is Syrian and wants to govern a fundamentalist emirate based in Damascus. ISIL is pan-Arab and wants to merge Syria with Iraq into a single emirate. The Syrian Kurds in the northeast appear to be defending their areas and Government forces are holding their own in the west.

Administrative note: Thanks to all the brilliant Readers who submitted thoughts about the elections in Bangladesh.

End of NightWatch


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