The city of Fallujah in Iraq has fallen into the hands of the al-Qaida linked Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL).
The ISIL is one of the strongest rebel units in Syria, where it has imposed a strict version of Islamic law in territories it holds and kidnapped and killed anyone it deems critical of its rule. It also claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing last week in a Shiite-dominated neighborhood in Lebanon.
Fallujah, along with the capital of Anbar province, Ramadi, was a stronghold of Sunni insurgents during the U.S.-led war. Al-Qaida militants largely took both cities over last week and have been fending off incursions by government forces there since.
Anbar province, a vast desert area on the borders with Syria and Jordan with an almost entirely Sunni population was the heartland of the Sunni insurgency that rose up against American troops and the Iraqi government after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. The insurgency was fueled by anger over the dislodgment of their community from power during Saddam's rule and the rise of Shiites. It was then that al-Qaida established its branch in the country.
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.
We look at Al-Qaeda as an anti-western terrorist group bent on bringing down the American and other Western governments. That is true, but it is more complex than that. Al-Qaeda is Sunni and they want to set up an Islamic Caliphate, not just in Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan, but throughout the world, starting in those countries. They are fighting in Syria because the government of Assad is Shiite. They are fighting in Iraq because the government is dominated by Shiite Muslims. They are anti-Iran because they are Shiite Muslims. They hate the West because we are not under Sharia Law –the Sunni version of Sharia Law.
They get a huge amount of support, including arms, ammunition, supplies and money from Saudi Arabia because most Saudi’s are Sunni Muslim.
Religion, not political ideology, is at the heart of this terrorist movement. It always has been. We, in the West, have been too damned slow to grasp that fact -and what it means.
In case you want me to make it a little clearer, it means they are going to go on fighting for a long, long time. Al-Qaeda will keep attacking the West periodically, but their main target is increasingly other Muslims –Shiite Muslims.
It’s hard for Westerners to understand. To us the differences between Shiite and Sunni beliefs seem minor and we think they should be able to set those aside and live in peace together, respecting each other’s beliefs.
After all, we have learned to be tolerant of different religions, why can’t they? --But have we?
Well, yes, pretty much. Don’t forget, however, that has been a resent development, historically speaking.
Protestant vs. Catholic fighting still simmers close to the surface in Ireland. Our own Pilgrims came here from Europe because of religious persecution. The "West" had the Thirty Years War, the Hundred Years War and the English Civil War because of fighting between various Christian Denominations.
One major lesson of history is that religion has been the prime motivation for one hell of a lot of war, destruction and death. It is, and will be, no different in the Middle East.
And there is not much we, in the West, can do about it except sit back and let it play itself out. Becoming involved is a self-defeating proposition. Sending military aid, to either or any side, is just pouring oil on the fire.
We should disengage where ever and whenever possible. The Muslims need to work out their differences themselves – lessons they will be learning in blood and tears. It will be hard to watch, but there is really no alternative except to pay a price in blood and tears too.
A goal is a dream with a deadline.
Live Long and Prosper....