Not such a trusted friend

A row over the naming of Iraq’s Kurdish parties on a US terrorist list indicates hidden conflicts, writes Salah Nasrawi
In yet another twist in the on-and-off relationship between the Iraqi Kurds and the United States, Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani has cancelled a trip to Washington, apparently in anger over Washington’s reluctance to support his rush for a fully independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq.
The hidden crisis was made visible by an unexpected return to a hush-hush detail in the US-Kurdish relationship when it transpired that Barzani and his comrade-in-arms the President of Iraq Jalal Talabani were on Washington’s list of most-wanted terrorists.
The refusal of Barzani to travel to Washington to meet US President Barack Obama until his administration had removed his Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDK) from its terrorist blacklist came tantalisingly close to showing that relations between the United States and one of its staunchest Middle East allies were at low ebb at best.
Kurdish officials say that efforts to remove the names of their leaders and their parties from the list of groups deemed to have provided material support for terrorism have come to no avail despite the strategic alliance the Iraqi Kurds have built up with Washington.
Eleven years after the US army invaded Iraq to topple former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in 2003 and helped to empower the nation’s Kurdish minority in a self-ruled region, Iraq’s Kurds are again feeling betrayed by Washington.
Kurdistan’s main ruling parties were added to the terrorist groups list after 2001 under the US Patriot Act, allegedly for supporting the resistance to Saddam’s regime prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq.
Under the law, members of the PDK and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (KDP) are classified as terrorists and thus are prohibited from obtaining visas to enter the United States.
Washington’s refusal, or reluctance, to rescind the sanction has drawn the wrath of the Kurdistan Regional Government whose spokesman Falah Mustafa accused the Obama administration of ignoring the Kurdish people’s sacrifices in the US-led war against Iraq.
“We are the only people throughout Iraq to have told America thank you,” he told the British newspaper the Guardian last week. “America did not receive a single casualty here in this region dominated by the PUK and KDP,” he said.
The controversy also triggered uproar in Kurdistan, with many commentators lambasting the inclusion of the Kurdish parties in the US blacklist of suspected organisations for carrying arms against Saddam as absurd.
The episode seems partly just a matter of history repeating itself. America’s betrayal of its long-time allies earlier taught the Iraqi Kurds the lessons of their reliance on the world’s biggest superpower.
US relations with the Kurdish groups in Iraq can be traced back to the 1960s, when it started supporting the Kurdish revolt in Iraq as part of its foreign policy drive to oust the anti-Western regime of former Iraqi leader Abdul-Karim Qassim.
Again during the Nixon administration in the early 1970s, Washington encouraged an insurgency by Iraq’s Kurds to weaken the then Baath Party regime in Iraq through supplying them with millions of dollars worth of arms and logistical support in collaboration of the Shah of Iran.
In 1975, the United States, however, abandoned the Kurds after its friend the Shah signed the Algiers Treaty with Saddam under which Iraq agreed to share control over the strategic waterway of Shatt Al-Arab and solve other border disputes.
The result was that Iran cut all supply lines to the Kurds prompting the collapse of the Kurdish rebellion. The story goes that Nixon’s secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, orchestrated the Iraq-Iran deal in an attempt to woo Baghdad away from Soviet influence.
Another blow to the Kurds came in 1991 when the United States failed to support the Kurdish uprising against Saddam following his defeat in the second Gulf War to liberate Kuwait, leaving millions of Kurds seeking refuge in neighbouring countries to avoid Saddam’s revenge.
Later the United States supported a UN no-fly zone in Iraqi Kurdistan as a strategic asset to keep Saddam in check, though it had celebrated the measure as humanitarian assistance and a way to protect the Kurds against Saddam’s onslaughts.
Yet, even after the Kurds joined the US-led war against Saddam, Washington was reluctant to respond to Kurdish requests to create an even-tighter relationship with the US through an agreement to ensure American support for independence.
It is likely that the present crisis over the terrorists list could damage the US-Kurdish relationship at a critical moment in the Middle East as the United States is trying to readjust its Middle East policies to accommodate its rapprochement with Iran and its efforts to resolve the war in Syria.
Since the US-led invasion in 2003, the Iraqi Kurds have set out on a quest to secede from Iraq, and they would have hoped that Washington would help them achieve their long-time national dream to form a sovereign Kurdish state.
The Kurds in Iraq have long enjoyed self-rule from the government in Baghdad, and over the past decade the Kurdish Regional Government has secured increasing autonomy from the south, turning the region into a largely peaceful and flourishing hub in an otherwise chaotic Iraq.
In recent months sentiments have been rising in Kurdistan over disputes with Baghdad over territories, oil revenues and the region’s budget.
“Why shouldn’t Kurdish leaders separate Kurdistan from Iraq in a popular referendum at this time of freedom and the liberation of nations,” asked Kurdish writer Ako Mohamed in an article published in Rudaw, a pro-Barzani media outlet.
“The Kurds have a limited presence in the Iraqi government. Therefore, it is time Kurdish leaders examined their being in the capital. Their current presence in Baghdad is almost equal to them not being there at all,” he wrote.
Barzani has repeatedly warned that the Kurds will seek independence if the region’s disputes with Baghdad remain unresolved. He apparently planned to discuss his plans for Kurdish independence with the Obama administration during his botched trip to Washington.
Last month, a Kurdish news outlet close to the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party reported that the autonomous Kurdistan Region would declare its independence within five years.
Rudaw quoted energy adviser to the Kurdistan Government Ali Balu as saying that Kurdistan “is going to be rid of its status as a region within Iraq.” Balu said Kurdistan’s independence would be driven by the region’s geostrategic position and its rich energy reserves.
He said Barzani’s participation in the World Economic Forum in Davos in January had been to pave the way for international recognition of Kurdistan as an independent state.
Indeed, there are increasing signs that Kurdistan is taking concrete steps towards independence.
Oil extracted from wells in Kurdistan is now flowing to Turkey through a pipeline independently from Baghdad, which is challenging the operation. The plans to increase exports of oil and gas could be a major step to put Kurdistan on the world stage.
Earlier this month, a senior official at the Kurdish Ministry of Peshmerga, an equivalent of the ministry of defence, disclosed that the Kurdish Government was planning to turn the peshmerga into a national army.
“We are getting closer and closer to that every day,” Jabar Yawar was quoted as saying. He said the ministry had 13 brigades with some 42,000 peshmergas.
Oil experts and a national army will add to the signs that Iraqi Kurds are working hard to turn their autonomous region into an entity ready for independence.
Kurdistan has its own president, prime minister and parliament. It also has its own security forces and intelligence services, and it operates its own airports and the region’s border points. It also has foreign-relations offices abroad and issues visas for foreign visitors.
But life has never been easy for the Kurds. The war against Saddam bound them closer to the United States, but they have now been pitted once again against the complex geopolitics of the Middle East.
Gone are the days when the Kurds were looking to the United States with warm feelings of gratitude and friendship for having liberated them from Saddam. The present dispute has been a reminder to the Kurds that even after they became semi-independent, they remain with no friends but their mountains.
The United States, which is believed to have stakes in Kurdistan that form a crucial part of its geopolitical regional strategy and its oil, has refused to support independent Kurdish oil exports and rejected requests to train the peshmergas or station US troops in Kurdistan.
The cancellation of Barzani’s visit to Washington seems to be linked more to Washington’s unwillingness to listen to his request to support Kurdish plans for independence than his complaints about his party being on the terrorist list.
The Obama administration, which faces accusations of abandoning Iraq and leaving the war-weary country to fall apart, is in no position to share responsibility for the Iraqi Kurds’ move towards independence. This would almost certainly have detrimental effects on its Middle East strategies, possibly involving conflicts with Iraq, Iran and Turkey.
As part of its declared policy, the United States supports Kurdish federalism within Iraq and has never, at least publicly, validated the notion of Kurdish self-determination to justify an inherent right to independence.
But the Iraqi Kurds’ national aspirations, and their willingness to take risks in achieving them, are expected to grow despite the action or inaction of foreign actors, including the United States.
 Anger about what the Iraqi Kurds perceive as US betrayal is, therefore, bound to grow. “Without Kurdish support America will find itself embarrassed about its vision for Iraq,” wrote Ako Mohamed in Rudaw.
“The Kurds in fact feel it is often America and not Baghdad that is acting against them,” wrote another columnist, Ayub Nuri.
This leaves the question open of how Kurdish politicians will find ways to address problem with their much-needed and old but not so trustworthy friend.

Dangers of an Iraqi-Iranian border deal

A new border treaty with Iran has come as a test for Iraq’s leaders, writes Salah Nasrawi
Iraq and Iran have been holding talks behind closed doors on a new border agreement that the two countries hope will end a decades-long dispute amid fears that Tehran holds the upper hand because of Baghdad’s weakness and Iran’s strong influence in the war-battered country.
The talks are also being held at a time when events in the Middle East have benefited Iran and helped the largely Shia nation to bolster its regional position at the expense of its mostly Arab Sunni neighbours.
Officials have said secret bilateral negotiations have been going on for months in order to reach a deal on the demarcation of the 1,400km long joint border, including key oil fields and the strategic waterway of the Shatt Al-Arab.
The first news of the contacts came last month when Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif announced during a visit to Baghdad that “a significant deal” would be signed on the border with Iraq “within the coming two weeks”.
“The ground for the expansion of cooperation is well prepared despite existing threats and challenges,” Zarif was quoted as saying by the official Iranian Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
Zarif said Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari would travel to Tehran to sign the deal. IRNA, however, reported during Zarif’s visit to Baghdad on 14 January that the two ministers “discussed implementing an agreement that has already been signed between Iran and Iraq on broadening cooperation on border issues.”
Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, announced last week that technical teams from both sides were “making progress” in the negotiations on the demarcation of the land and river borders.
In a statement, the ministry confirmed that Zebari would visit Tehran soon for further talks.
With the talks shrouded in secrecy, the full picture of the anticipated deal remains unclear, spurring growing concerns about the Iraqi negotiators’ ability to push an agenda that is in line with Iraq’s national interests on a range of issues.
Because of its Shia allies in the government, many Iraqis fear that Iran may be pushing for a resolution to the long-standing border dispute to make territorial gains and settle scores in the historic rivalry between the two nations which have fought wars and competed for regional supremacy. 
In November, Zebari acknowledged that he had tried to derail previous Iranian attempts to open discussions on the Algiers Treaty, the last boundary agreement concluded in 1975 that was later abrogated by former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
In a lengthy interview with the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper, Zebari said he had warned Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and his predecessor Ibrahim Al-Jaafari against making any commitment to Iran regarding the Algiers Agreement.
“This agreement was signed on the body of the Kurdish people and the body of the Iraqi [anti-Saddam] opposition at that time, and it divided the Shatt Al-Arab,” said Zebari, a former guerrilla in the anti-Baghdad Kurdish insurgency.
Zebari did not elaborate, but he was apparently referring to one of the major purposes of the Algiers Agreement, which was to stop Iran from supplying the Kurds with arms in their struggle against Saddam’s regime, eventually leading to the collapse of the Kurdish insurgency.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the idea of re-negotiating the border issue with Iran should now fuel fears among many Iraqis who feel their country is ill-prepared to deal with such a major diplomatic challenge while it is enmeshed in an ever-deepening ethno-sectarian struggle.  
The border conflict between Iraq and Iran is deeply rooted in history and regional geopolitics, and its last bloody manifestation was during the 1980-1988 War which left some one million people dead, wounded or disabled. Collateral damage to the economy of the two countries was also immense.
The dispute goes back to the 17th century, when in 1639 the former Ottoman Empire, in control of Iraq at the time, signed the first of a series of treaties with Persia to ease territorial disputes.
A protocol was signed in 1913 that established the land boundary, detailing the border between Iran and Iraq and defining the thalweg principle, or the deepest point in the river, as the border line in the Shatt Al-Arab.
In 1937, the two countries signed a treaty under which Iran clearly recognised modern Iraq’s claim of sovereignty to almost the entire Shatt Al-Arab with the exception of areas around certain key Iranian port cities.
The then shah of Iran, Mohamed Reza Pahlavi, abrogated this treaty in 1969, triggering a standoff followed by a severe deterioration in bilateral relations.
Iraq has always maintained that the Shatt Al-Arab, which represents its only true outlet to the Arabian Gulf, is a vital artery for its communications. Iran, on the other hand, has argued that the thalweg principle should be applied to the entire length of the Shatt Al-Arab.
In 1975, the then shah and Saddam signed the Algiers Agreement under which Iraq finally conceded to Iran’s long-standing demand that the thalweg principle be used to delimit the border in the Shatt Al-Arab.
However, following the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 and the opening of a new chapter of antagonism between the two countries, Saddam declared the 1975 Treaty abrogated.
He claimed that the Islamic regime’s frequent violations of the accord had necessitated the abrogation, setting off a bloody war lasting eight years.
The border zone is also known for its extensive oil fields, and many of these are in disputed areas. Since the ouster of Saddam in the US-led invasion in 2003, Iranian soldiers have temporarily occupied the oil wells several times. In December 2009, Iranian troops seized an oil field in a desert area south of Baghdad and raised the Iranian flag.
They withdrew a few days later.
Reports in the Iraqi media have repeatedly claimed that Iran is stealing large amounts of oil from Iraqi fields and making profits of billions of dollars a year.
Some of the oil is believed to be drilled from horizontal wells on the disputed border.
Iraq’s territorial borders with its neighbours have long been the source of bitter disagreements. Last year, Iraq and Kuwait completed the demarcation of their border under a UN Security Council resolution more than 20 years after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
Since the modern state of Iraq came into being in 1923, successive Iraqi governments have not accepted the British-drawn borders that established Kuwait as a separate sheikhdom after the First World War.
Many Iraqis have remained opposed to the demarcation agreement, saying that the new border has robbed them of property, territory and oil fields. Many of the country’s MPs have also blamed the government for signing the deal from a point of weakness and called for the re-negotiation of the border deal.
The construction of a new giant Kuwaiti port on Boubyan Island on the Khor Abdullah Waterway, which is the only strategic access to the sea for Iraq, has also raised concerns about Iraqi access to the sea.
For now, as officials in both Iraq and Iran remain tight-lipped about the details of their negotiations, there are a lot of questions about the timing of the process and its intentions as Iraq sinks deeper into political and sectarian conflicts that threaten its very existence as a state.
The lack of transparency and the absence of parliamentary discussion and public debate about the negotiations only increases suspicions and will not create the climate needed to find a national consensus on any possible deal.
Fundamentally, the long-standing territorial dispute with Iran is a major diplomatic challenge for Iraq that the country’s Shia-led government may not be well suited to handle.
Since the US-led invasion in 2003, Iran’s influence has steadily grown in Iraq, and many Iraqis now fear that their country has become a de facto client state of Iran.
Moreover, the country is mired in sectarian violence and an acute political crisis. The Iraqi government is dysfunctional and it cannot task itself with negotiating such a huge undertaking and commitment.
On the other hand, efforts to settle the dispute are unlikely to be effective unless they are based on the broad perspective of the entire Middle East and Gulf region. Iran is in a much stronger position due largely to its recent nuclear deal with the West, and it could now work out an agreement that would give it more leverage in the region.
All this should remind the Iraqi leadership of the country’s national interests and of the complexities associated with the border problems when its negotiators sit down with their Iranian counterparts to strike a deal.

Iraq’s poetry of defiance

Iraqis are resorting to poetry and songs to vent their frustrations with those in power, writesSalah Nasrawi

One video shows folk poets mocking vote-buying candidates. In another a poet is cheered by a huge crowd as he scorns corrupt politicians, and in a third a popular singer laments Iraq’s decay in the post-US invasion era.
Eleven years after the US-led invasion that ousted former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s regime and promised a democratic and free nation, Iraqis are still struggling with a decade of a failed state.
Iraqi folk poets and singers are increasingly taking the lead in voicing their resistance to their incompetent leaders amid mounting popular frustrations over failures to restore security, rampant corruption and poor basic services.
The rising voices of protests in poetry and sung-verse also come ahead of parliamentary elections in April, which many Iraqis perceive as being crucial in deciding their country’s future as the Sunni insurrection and Kurdish pro-independence sentiments intensify. 
The protests reflect a growing anger among Iraqis over their leaders who are seen as useless politicians exploiting ethno-sectarian divisions in their favour to grab more power.  
On Saturday, the country’s election commission disqualified dozens of candidates in the April elections for having criminal records including, theft, drug trafficking, bribery and prostitution.
What is phenomenal about this emerging vocal expression of defiance to the Shia-led government of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki is that the performers are mostly Shia and their criticism revolves around their politicians’ betrayal of Shia ideals.
Of the many reasons behind the frustration and anger is a new retirement law which was passed last week and allowed MPs to secure lavish benefits for themselves.
Many Iraqis believe the law is unconstitutional because it discriminates against the majority of Iraqis by exempting the privileged political elite from the government’s pension scale.
Only 166 MPs in the 325-member parliament endorsed the controversial legislation.
Videos circulating on Iraqi online media and social networks show clips of laughing audiences reacting to poets who mock sleazy lawmakers and politicians.
Their harshly-worded criticisms reflect growing anger over the nation’s presently wide wealth gap, created mostly by greed of the country’s political establishment. 
In one of the videos recorded in the southern city of Nassiriya two poets are seen engaged in a public poetry debate about the coming elections, which many Iraqis fear will bring the same corrupt politicians back to parliament.
The scene: a pavement in mid-town where the poet mimics a candidate who appeals to pedestrians:
For God’s sake, vote for me.
If you vote, you will receive a blanket,
A heater,
I will make you live like sultans,
I will send you up, up, up…
Vote for me!
The other poet in the debate, who emerges from the unconvinced audience, strikes back:
We don’t trust you any more,
Our votes will never be yours.
We abhor you.
If you ever come back we will burn you in acid,
You, cheater, liar,
You’ve eaten the flesh and left us the bones.
That’s not the worst of it, however. In a second video distributed widely over the social networks the “betrayal” of the Shias’ most revered imam Ali is how poet Hazim Jabir describes the excess of the country’s Shia politicians, and the designation is more than a rhetorical flourish: 
Are you not ashamed?
In the name of faith,
You’ve abandoned the faith.
You, rulers who pray,
You murder people and go to perform prayers in their blood,
To whom do you belong?
Your seats are more important than your people,
Haven’t you had enough? 
Tomorrow, doomsday, when you meet Ali,
What are you going to tell him?
He starved to feed the hungry,
And now we starve, and you are never satisfied.
Many of the poems have been turned into songs and performances that cut through the hegemony of patriarchal political discourse and are inserted into the fabric of daily life.
In one favourite song, singer Hassan Al-Rassam lambasts the politicians who are removed from the very people they have promised to serve: 
You are just worthless thieves,
Idiot who trusts a thief,
You’ve got the best of everything,
Leaving us with nothing.
If anyone raises a question,
A bullet hits him in the forehead.
Why has the world turned upside down?
By displaying the power of such verses and music to resist the country’s political class which is enriching itself at the expense of the rest of the people, Iraqi poets and singers are adding a powerful voice to a discontented public in a way that written expression cannot do.  
Throughout the present period of deep distress and national calamity, Iraqis have had the opportunity to express their limited freedom of expression through the independent media and online social networks.
But increasing pressure on the independent media and threats to writers has lent the opportunity to poets and singers to resort to older traditions of connecting with people and embracing social and political issues.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Iraq on Monday a bomb struck a newspaper office in Baghdad after its editor had received threats from Shia groups for publishing a cartoon of Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which was seen as offensive.
Last week, Iraq’s judiciary issued a warrant for the arrest of a columnist critical of the government who had allegedly libeled Al-Maliki.
The warrant against Sarmad Al-Taie, who writes a column for the Al-Mada newspaper, was issued under an article of the criminal code that prohibits defaming or insulting government employees.
Another warrant was issued for Munir Haddad, a retired judge who sentenced Saddam to death in 2006 and is now a private lawyer. The warrants are the first against writers or intellectuals since the US-led invasion in 2003.
Last week the Iraqi Ministry of Culture banned a play two days after its debut at the National Theatre in Baghdad. The play “Women Parliament” is critical of MPs who waste their time and public money in doing business, travelling and bickering.  
Critics have also accused the government of using public money to silence criticism and buy the local media.
Local news outlets reported last week that the government-controlled election commission had started funding a television network known to be critical of the government, twisting its reporting to a pro-government stance.
The allegations surfaced after the channel stopped its critical reporting and began putting a favourable spin on its coverage of government news.
The government has also ordered the reopening of the offices of the channel in Baghdad, closed last year after it was accused of spreading misinformation and exaggeration.
However, the government can hardly do anything to muzzle the often spontaneous and fleeting oral forms of expression dealing with Iraq’s dilemmas.
Fearing a backlash and a boycott of the April polling, Shia clerics have warned their congregations against re-electing the same politicians who have “betrayed” them.
On Friday, prayer imams in the Shia holy cities of Najaf and Karbala denounced the lucrative retirement benefits for politicians and urged Iraqis not to vote for those MPs who had endorsed the law.
In a country that is terribly polarised and dangerously unstable, a large-scale boycott could erode the legitimacy of the already fragile political process and result in far more deadlock and even bloodshed.
Meanwhile, true to their traditions which, some say, go back to ancient Sumeria, Iraqi folk poets and vocal artists are expected to remain within the mainstream of political critique and mobilisation.

Iraq’s unwinnable war

Fighting in Anbar province is putting ever-greater strain on Iraq’s political and sectarian tensions, writes Salah 

As Iraqi security forces backed by their Sunni tribesmen allies battled anti-government rebels in Ramadi and Fallujah in Anbar province this week, violence continued to soar in Baghdad and many other cities across Iraq.
The surge in violence has raised concerns about the continuing deterioration in the security situation in the country less than three months before a crucial parliamentary election. 
Violence has escalated since early January, when Sunni extremist insurgents seized large parts of the two cities after government forces had dismantled a Sunni Muslim protest camp in Ramadi.
While the security forces retook control of some parts of Ramadi with the help of allied local tribesmen, Fallujah has remained largely under rebel control.
This week government forces intensified shelling of the rebel hideouts in Fallujah in what appeared to be the preparation for a ground offensive to regain control of the city.
But an all-out assault to reassert control over Fallujah has been put on hold, probably out of fear of large-scale civilian casualties and to convince the Sunni tribes to oust the militants themselves.
However, fierce fighting has left dozens of the insurgents dead, according to the government, while locals have reported heavy casualties among residents because of the army’s shelling and air-strikes.
More than 140,000 people have been made homeless since the new conflict erupted, according to Iraq’s ministry of displacement and migration.
Meanwhile, terrorist acts and other violence continued in many other parts of Iraq. Car bombings hit crowds, marketplaces, restaurants and government buildings mostly in Shia-majority towns and neighbourhoods.
In a daring attack on Thursday, assailants stormed government offices in Baghdad, killing at least 20 people and briefly taking a number of civil servants hostage.
The attack was mounted by eight armed men. The security forces reportedly killed four of the attackers in clashes that left many parts of the huge government building that hosts the transport ministry and human rights ministry devastated.
Fearing more attacks on other government offices, police blocked roads around Baghdad and areas leading into the capital’s fortified Green Zone, which is home to the government headquarters, foreign embassies and other key institutions.
Baghdad’s heavily guarded international airport was struck by three Katyusha rockets on Friday. The missiles hit the runway, a parked plane and the airport’s border area.
There were no reports of casualties, but the attack raised concerns about the security of the airport, Baghdad’s gateway to the world and a facility that handles dozens of flights every day and hosts several international airlines.
The raid indicates that the insurgents can now penetrate the fortified security zone around the facility and the multiple checkpoints on its highways and strike at Iraq’s main transportation network.
On Monday, Katyusha rockets also rattled Baghdad’s Green Zone. Columns of smoke were later seen bellowing over an army garrison inside the enclave. 
At the same time, many parts of Iraq have been engulfed in sectarian and political violence, a sign that the situation has been exacerbated by the recent fighting in Anbar province.
In other Sunni-populated provinces, such as Diyalah, Nineveh and Salah al-Din, anti-government rebels have stepped up their attacks against the military, police forces and pro-government tribes.
They are now clashing with the army and police posts nearly every day in some of Baghdad’s outskirts, including Abu Ghraib and Tarmiyah. 
Retaliatory attacks, including on Sunni mosques, and killings by Shia extremists in some mixed districts and neighbourhoods have also been growing in recent weeks. Such attacks have raised concerns that Shia militias who had earlier been showing restraint might now have abandoned it.
Some 1,013 Iraqis were killed, including 795 civilians, in the violence in January, according to government figures, while 2,024 were wounded, making it one of the bloodiest months in the country in two years.
Experts of all stripes agree that the ongoing standoff between the Iraqi forces and the militants in Anbar may take a long time to resolve. Many of them believe that even if the army can retake Fallujah, the Sunni anti-government resistance will not end until the roots of the Sunni rebellion are removed.
Iraq’s latest crisis started in December 2012, when tens of thousands of Sunnis began protesting against what they saw as the marginalisation of their sect.
The protesters initially wanted the Shia-led government of prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki to put an end to the perceived targeting of the Sunnis by the security forces, but these later turned into demands for the equal sharing of power and wealth.
By late December, Al-Maliki was claiming that a protest camp in Ramadi had been turned into the headquarters of the terrorist group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Iraqi army and police forces later moved to dismantle the protest camp after efforts to find a political solution to the crisis had broken down.
Clashes then broke out in Anbar, with Sunni anger at the government’s crushing of the year-long protest movement inflaming Iraq’s already deeply rooted sectarian tensions.
Since the fighting broke out in Anbar, fears of an all-out sectarian war have increased.
As the violence spirals, there seems to be no military solution to Iraq’s situation and the prospect of peace and stability seems bleak.
Al-Maliki has been labeling the Sunni anti-government rebels as Al-Qaeda terrorists in an attempt to discredit the insurgency and justify his government’s crackdown.
While extremists may be taking the lead in the fight in Fallujah, Sunni hard-line tribesmen and other armed groups, especially officers from the decommissioned army of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, have been actively involved in the rebellion.
Al-Qaeda has disavowed the ISIS. In a purported statement published on one of the jihadist Websites on Saturday, the General Command of the terrorist group insisted that it had no link with the ISIS, a move which will give credit to claims that rebels in Fallujah are not Al-Qaeda members.    
Al-Maliki’s strategy seems to be to rely on building allies with rival Sunni tribes and provide them with arms and funds to fight the insurrection. This is a carbon copy of the disastrous “surge” that was forged by the US army during the nine-year US occupation of the country that ended in total failure.
What Al-Maliki should understand is that he is now facing an entrenched resurrection by the country’s wider Sunni minority, who complain of being neglected and excluded by his government while he has been refusing to make any compromise.
The consensus opinion is that if the fighting in Anbar drags on it will cast a grim shadow on the next parliamentary elections that are slated for 30 April. Virtually every commentator believes that even if these elections are held peacefully, they will reproduce Iraq’s sectarian troubles, tensions and frustrations.
As a whole, the battle in Anbar and the larger Sunni resistance it is causing is drawing a deeper dividing line in Iraq’s politics, as well as in its geographical and social dimensions.    
Kicking out the fighters from Fallujah could be a breakthrough in the fight against the insurgency and finding allies among the Sunnis to join the war against the rebels may divide the Sunni camp, but in the end what Iraq needs is a sustainable solution to its problems.
Iraq is crumbling not just because violence is playing havoc in the country, but also because there has been no breakthrough in the sectarian deadlock that has paralysed its government for so long.
Unless there is a working system that guarantees inclusion within a just state that will deal with all Iraqis as equal citizens, there will be no peace or stability in the country.