Black-clad Sunni militants of Al Qaeda destroyed the Falluja Police Headquarters and mayor’s office, planted their flag atop other government buildings and decreed the western Iraqi city to be their new independent state on Friday in an escalating threat to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, whose forces were struggling to retake control late into the night…

The group’s fighters cut power lines in Falluja late in the day and ordered residents not to use their backup generators. In one area of Falluja, a militant said over a mosque loudspeaker: “We are God’s rule on Earth! No one can defeat God’s will!”…

“We declare Falluja as an Islamic state, and we call on you to be on our side!” one fighter shouted to the crowd, according to witness accounts.

Referring to Mr. Maliki’s government and its Shiite ally Iran, the fighter shouted, “We are here to defend you from the army of Maliki and the Iranian Safavids!” The Safavid dynasty ruled present-day Iran and Iraq hundreds of years ago.

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Al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been tightening its grip in the Sunni-dominated desert province, near the Syrian border, in recent months in a bid to create an Islamic state across the Iraqi-Syrian borders.

In Ramadi, the other main city in Anbar, tribesmen and the army have worked together to counter al Qaeda militants seeking to take control.

But in Falluja, ISIL’s task has been made easier by the cooperation of tribesmen, who have joined forces with it against the government

Officials and witnesses in Falluja said the northern and eastern parts of the city were under the control of tribesmen and militants after residents fled the neighborhoods to take refuge from the army shelling.

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Fallujah’s streets are all but empty except for cars navigating alleys in an attempt to escape clashes and shelling on the outskirts…

“I will escape with my wife and children, as I am afraid they will die, because security forces are no longer able to distinguish between gunmen, Al-Qaeda and civilians,” says Ahmed Mutlak, 52, who owns a shop in central Fallujah.

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“At the moment, there is no presence of the Iraqi state in Fallujah,” said a local journalist who asked not to be named because he fears for his safety. “The police and the army have abandoned the city, al-Qaeda has taken down all the Iraqi flags and burned them, and it has raised its own flag on all the buildings.”…

In the provincial capital, Ramadi, tribal fighters have succeeded in ejecting al-Qaeda loyalists, according to Ahmed Abu Risha, a tribal leader who fought alongside U.S. troops against al-Qaeda in Iraq following the “surge” of U.S. troops in 2007…

But it was unclear whether all the tribal fighters battling the al-Qaeda-affiliated militants were doing so in alliance with the Iraqi government. The current violence evolved from a year-long, largely peaceful Sunni revolt against Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government that drew inspiration from the Arab Spring demonstrations elsewhere in the region. But it was rooted in the sectarian disputes left unresolved when U.S. troops withdrew and inflamed by the escalating conflict in neighboring Syria…

When Maliki dispatched the Iraqi army to quell a protest in Ramadi this week, local tribes fought back. Maliki ordered the troops to withdraw, creating an opportunity for al-Qaeda fighters to surge into towns from their desert strongholds and triggering battles across the province.

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Iraqi troops trying to retake Anbar province from a mixture of Islamist and tribal foes battled al Qaeda fighters in Ramadi on Saturday after shelling the western region’s other main city, Falluja, overnight, tribal leaders and officials said.

At least eight people were killed and 30 were wounded in Falluja, and residents of both cities said the fighting had limited their access to food, and that they were running low on generator fuel…

Tribal leader Sheikh Rafe’a Abdulkareem Albu Fahad said the tribesmen were finding it hard to hunt down the militants in southern and eastern Ramadi as families had taken them into their homes.

“We cannot persuade the people to kick them out,” he said.

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The trend began in December 2011, just days after the departure of U.S. troops, when security forces raided the compound of Vice President Tariq al Hashemi. Hashemi was able to flee but several of his bodyguards were arrested and based on their testimony, allegedly extracted under torture, he was convicted in absentia of various terrorist offenses and sentenced to death.

A year later Maliki’s forces raided the home of Raffi el-Essawi, a former finance minister who barely managed to elude arrest.

Now it is the turn of Ahmed al-Alwani, a prominent member of Parliament who was arrested at his home a few days ago after a two-hour gun battle between his bodyguards and security forces that left his brother and five guards dead.

If Maliki wants to know why al-Qaeda in Iraq is suddenly resurgent, and why violence is returning to 2008 and even 2007 levels, all he need do is look at this trend. Sunnis certainly do. Many prominent leaders of the Anbar Awakening, who allied with American and Iraqi forces in 2007-2008 to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq, have now made common cause with AQI because of what they see–with some justification–as a campaign of persecution directed against them by Maliki and the militant Shiites who surround him.

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Politics are at the root of some of the above – historical divisions in the Iraqi government have deepened during 2013. And not just between Sunni Muslim and Shiite Muslim politicians, but also within each group’s ranks. It is no longer possible to predict who will support who in any decision making power struggle. Whether Shiite or Sunni, each individual group seems primarily focussed on its own special interests. Only Iraq’s Kurds, nationalistic in their outlook rather than sectarian, seem to have been able to close ranks…

Many have blamed the resurgence of Al Qaeda in Iraq on more than Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s divisive tactics and power mongering. It can also be blamed on the fact that the Sunni Muslim group is stronger, operating with military precision and Mafia-esque cunning, just over the border from Iraqi provinces like Anbar. The past year has seen months-long anti-government protests by Sunni Muslim locals in Anbar – combine these with conservative tribal politics, thoughtless military intervention by the Shiite Muslim-led Iraqi government and Sunni Muslim extremists’ ability to easily come back and forth over the porous Iraqi-Syrian border, then the result is what is happening in Anbar this week.

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Fallujah has fallen, and the same scenario is about to happen in the even-larger city of Ramadi.

It shouldn’t be such a surprise the place my friends fought for is falling back into civil war. I shouldn’t be surprised when the same thing happens in Afghanistan. But it still is, because I don’t want it to happen…

I’ll never know why they died. It wasn’t to stop the “mushroom cloud” or to defend the nation after 9/11. It sure wasn’t for freedom, democracy, apple pie, or mom and dad back home.

The only reason they died was for the man or woman beside them. They died for their friends.

I’m just not satisfied with that.

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Via RCP.