(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Anbar province plagued by violence

[Iraq] A map of Iraq highlighting Anbar province and five key cities within it. [Date picture taken: 01/15/2007]
Saeed Kudaimati/IRIN

In a series of articles, IRIN documents the levels of violence and consequent needs of the population in six different areas of the country. Scroll to the bottom for links to the other articles in the series.

Outside Baghdad, Anbar province has witnessed more fighting and killing than any of Iraq's 18 provinces since the US-led occupation of Iraq began in late 2003. While US forces flushed out a number of Sunni insurgent groups there in military operations in 2004 and 2005, the insurgents have returned and escalating violence has prevented NGOs and aid agencies from reaching people who desperately need food and medical supplies.

Anbar residents say that ever since former president Saddam Hussein was overthrown, they have lived in constant fear.

“During Saddam Hussein’s rule ours was one of the most prosperous areas in Iraq and was developing fast. But after the US-led invasion, all that development was destroyed in a few months. As if that was not enough, we are also scared of the sectarian violence that is getting worse by the day in this area,” said Abu Mustafa, a 39-year-old resident of Ramadi, the province’s capital.

According to counter-insurgency experts, many young insurgent recruits were trained in six towns in Anbar: al-Qaim, Haditha, Anah, Hit, Fallujah and Ramadi. As a result, these five towns have witnessed particularly heavy clashes resulting in the deaths of hundreds of local citizens and the destruction of thousands of shops, schools, houses and government buildings.

“Today, the situation is spiralling out of control with the return of insurgents and the increase in the number of those displaced as a result of sectarian violence,” said Muhammad Rabia’a, media officer for Anbar province council in Ramadi, some 115km west of the capital, Baghdad.

Rabia’a said that the intense fighting that Anbar has witnessed over the past three years has caused a massive deterioration of the infrastructure there.

Anbar Province

  • Largest of Iraq's 18 provinces
  • Most violent province after Baghdad
  • Population of 1.2 million
  • Sunni stronghold
  • Heavy clashes between insurgents and US-led forces
  • More than 30,000 killed since 2003
  • More than 40,000 displaced since 2004

“Many cities in Anbar lack essential infrastructure, which is affecting the daily lives of thousands of Iraqis. Education has also been seriously affected. More than 37 percent of our schools are not functioning, either because the school buildings have been destroyed or because teachers and students do not bother turning up because they are too afraid to go out,” Rabia’a said.

With an area of 140,000 square kilometres and a population of 1.2 million people, overwhelmingly Sunni Arab, Anbar is by far the largest province in Iraq. Lying in the west of the country, Anbar borders Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

According to local NGOs working in the area, Anbar is the most dilapidated province in terms of infrastructure and its local government depends on sources other than the central government for 80 per cent of its aid.

Lacking proper central government support, which was promised after intense fighting in 2004 and 2005 between US-led forces and insurgents, the province is also struggling to get support from international and local aid organisations for its 40,000 displaced people. Nearly 70 percent of Anbar’s displaced live in temporary homes in areas near Ramadi and Fallujah.

Humanitarian needs

Fallujah, 70km west of Baghdad, is the second largest city in Anbar after Ramadi and is the most turbulent place in the province. Nearly 70 percent of its infrastructure was destroyed during US military incursions in 2004 and 2005. Around 60 of the city’s 80 schools were destroyed or damaged, according to local NGOs.

Fallujah has not been rebuilt and more than 300 families (about 2,000 individuals) are still reportedly displaced - most of them within the city and in its outskirts - according to the NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq (NCCI).

“Since the invasion of Fallujah in 2004, I and my family of 14 have been living in an abandoned school some 20km south of the city. Our home has been totally destroyed and since then we have not received compensation for our loss,” said Mahmoud Rawi, 48.

''We want our rights. We want money to rebuild our lives because it should not be us who pay for the political in-fighting.''

“We want our rights. We want money to rebuild our lives because it should not be us [ordinary citizens] who pay for the political in-fighting. Our children have no education and sometimes we don’t have enough food,” he added.

While Anbar residents are increasingly dependent on aid agencies for support, agencies say their work is hampered by the threat of attacks.

“The continuous violence in Anbar has forced locals to turn more towards aid agencies. But armed groups have prevented aid agencies from sending their volunteers to operate in the province, allegedly for security reasons,” said Fatah Ahmed, spokesperson for Iraq Aid Association (IAA), one of the only remaining NGOs working in the area.

“The local NGOs have taken on an added burden since foreign aid agencies left Iraq for security reasons and are working from neighbouring countries. We depend on our volunteers to reach the affected areas or families but that hasn’t been easy with the constant attacks against aid workers, especially in Anbar province,” Ahmed added.

The province gets less than six hours supply of electricity daily, about 40 percent of all its sewage system has been destroyed and local hospitals are constantly running out of supplies.

Anbar doctors say the most needed medical provisions are emergency equipment and medicines, especially those for diarrhoea, fever and pulmonary diseases. There is also a lack of the necessary materials for bone surgery as well as a shortage of doctors themselves.

Anbar patients have to go to the capital for more complex operations. Some die on their way there while those that make it sometimes have to wait for weeks to be seen to because preference is given to Baghdad residents.

Bombings and beheadings

Anbar’s insurgents are a motley collection of mostly Sunni armed groups. Some of them are loyal to former president Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party and are intent on driving out the US-led forces.

Others have joined al-Qa’eda in Iraq, the best-known Islamist ‘jihadi’ group, which is against Saddam’s followers as well as foreign forces and those fighting with them. Al-Qa’eda has been blamed for many of the bombings and beheadings in Iraq, especially in Fallujah and Ramadi.

Based on information from a Ministry of Interior official who demanded anonymity, some members of the Iraqi army and police force have paid allegiance to insurgent groups involved in the violence, which has made it more difficult for the central government to maintain peace in the area.

''I cannot go to another place to keep my children safe but if they come in harm’s way, I will join the insurgency.''

The number of people killed in Anbar province since 2003 is not known. However, the local provincial council and local NGOs estimate that more than 30,000 people - including women, children, civilians and fighters - have been killed in Anbar over the past three years.

“Last year [2006] compares with 2004 in terms of its high displacement and death numbers. The number of displaced people increased threefold compared to 2005 and hundreds of Iraqis have been killed due to the sectarian violence that has escalated in Anbar province,” Rabia’a said.

Rabia’a added that due to security reasons, local officials were having difficulties in determining the exact number of displaced people in Anbar. However, officials estimate about 40,000 people may have been displaced in Anbar since 2004.

“I cannot go to another place to keep my children safe but if they come in harm’s way, I will join the insurgency,” said Abu Mustafa from Ramadi.

Read more articles from this series.

Population influx is biggest problem in south
Baghdad most violent province in Iraq
Kurdistan, low in violence but lacking services
Kirkuk’s time-bomb could explode at any time
Violence prevails in Saddam’s home province

as/ar/ed

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