Fall of Fallujah refocuses US on Iraq

WASHINGTON – Three years after the last US combat soldiers left Iraq, the past week’s takeover of the western city of Fallujah by the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has refocused Washington’s attention on a country that it had hoped to put permanently in its rear-view mirror.

The administration of US President Barack Obama, which has ruled out any direct military intervention, has rushed Hellfire missiles and other military equipment to the Iraqi army, which has reportedly surrounded the city, the second-largest in the Sunni-dominated western al-Anbar province and the center of the Sunni insurgency against the eight-year US occupation.

It is also pressing at least one key lawmaker, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Robert Menendez, to release his hold
on the delivery of a fleet of Apache attack helicopters sought by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The Iraqi leader, who heads a Shia coalition, has been pressing for the helicopters, as well as F-16 warplanes, since before the US withdrawal in 2011, most recently during a visit to Washington in November.

But some critics of both Maliki and the Obama administration are urging Washington to condition additional assistance on the Iraqi leader’s firm commitment to show greater flexibility toward demands by the country’s Sunni minority. [Full story]