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Syrian opposition turns on al-Qaida-affiliated Isis jihadists near Aleppo | World news | The Guardian

Syrian opposition turns on al-Qaida-affiliated Isis jihadists near Aleppo | World news | The Guardian.

Fighters of  al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant parade at Syrian town of Tel Abyad

Fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria parade in Tel Abyad. Syrian rebels’ uneasy co-existence with the hardline Isis has turned to outright hostility. Photograph: Reuters

The most serious clashes yet between the Syrian opposition and a prominent al-Qaida group erupted in the north of the country on Friday as a tribal revolt against the same organisation continued to rage inIraq‘s Anbar province.

Opposition groups near Aleppo attacked militants from the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria (Isis) in two areas, al-Atareb and Andana, which are both strongholds of the fundamentalist Sunni organisation.

Battles also erupted in the Salahedin district of Aleppo itself, where both groups had reluctantly co-existed during recent months as Isis had imposed its hardline influence on parts of the city. Several hundred miles east, Isis remains in control of parts of the Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, having raided mosques, sacked police stations and freed prisoners in moves reminiscent of the darkest days of Iraq’s insurgency, in which much of Anbar had been lost to al-Qaida.

Isis is the latest incarnation of the same ruthless group that held sway in Anbar before the Awakening Movement of tribal militias ousted it. The Awakening was led at the time by powerful local sheikhs and backed by the occupying US military and was credited with freeing both cities from the grip of the jihadists.

But over the past year, security there and elsewhere in Iraq has gradually ebbed as the war in Syria has intensified. In the past week, revitalised Isis insurgents stormed into both cities soon after the Iraqi military withdrew from a violent standoff with local tribes.

The same group has been at the vanguard of an increasing radicalisation of the anti-Assad opposition in northern Syria. Its members cross freely between Anbar and the eastern deserts of Syria as the insurgencies in each country steadily seep in to each other.

Tribal figures in Anbar said they were continuing to mount attacks on Isis and were determined to block the Islamists’ efforts to re-establish a foothold there.

“Never will we allow them to return to our towns,” said a senior sheikh from the outskirts of Ramadi. “We don’t trust the Shia regime of Maliki and we don’t trust al-Qaida. We will fight for our futures. No one else has our benefit at heart.”

The US military had placed great significance on Ramadi and Fallujah, having fought two major battles against insurgents in Fallujah in 2004 and having suffered more than one third of its casualties during the eight-year war in the restive province.

With the US having left Iraq three years ago, the government of the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, recently travelled to Washington to seek renewed American intelligence help to get on top of the insurgency. The Obama administration agreed to supply weapons and technicians but it is not yet clear if it also agreed to re-introduce elements of its controversial drone programme.

Though not thought to be co-ordinated, the attacks on Isis strongholds in Syria and Iraq have mounted the most serious challenge to the group’s authority since it again became a dominant player in the region.

The group’s members have imposed a strict interpretation of Islamic law in much of northern Syria, subverting local authority and intimidating towns and communities. The increasing strength of the group has also further splintered the original armed Syrian opposition, which has at times come to a battlefield accommodation with the better funded jihadis, and had tried to avoid a reckoning with them.

However, opposition leaders told the Guardian that with military momentum at a crawl, they have little option but to try to oust Isis.

“We have surrounded them in Andana,” said a leader of Ahrar al-Sham, an Islamic group within the opposition. “We have told their foreigners that they must come and join us, within 24 hours, or face being killed.”

In al-Atareb, several dozen fighters, including Isis members, are believed to have been killed in the clashes. The group is thought have at least 10,000 members in northern Syria, many of them foreigners from elsewhere in the Sunni Islamic world, including up to 1,000 Europeans.

Isis has kidnapped more than 30 foreign aid-workers and journalists in the north, along with scores more Syrians. The French medical aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières said five of its members had been taken from a house in northern Syria on Thursday. It gave no details about the identities of the captives, or where they were taken from.

Dozens of Iraqi MPs quit over Anbar violence – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Dozens of Iraqi MPs quit over Anbar violence – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.

Forty-four Iraqi MPs have announced their resignation over violence in Anbar province, just days after a deadly raid on the home of a Sunni lawmaker in the area.Fighting erupted when police broke up a Sunni Muslim protest camp on Monday, leaving at least 13 people dead, police and medical sources said.

Four people died on Tuesday in clashes between Iraq’s security forces and gunmen in Ramadi, following the forced closure of the site.

The camp has been an irritant to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shia-led government since protesters set it up a year ago to demonstrate against what they see as marginalisation of their sect.

Maliki has repeatedly vowed to remove the camp and accused protesters of stirring strife and sheltering fighters linked to al-Qaeda.

The MPs who stepped down after the latest bout of violence demanded “the withdrawal of the army… and the release of MP Ahmed al-Alwani,” a Sunni of the Iraqiya bloc who was arrested during a deadly raid on Saturday.

Prominent Sunni politician Saleh al-Mutlaq called for all legislators from Iraqiya to withdraw from the political process, saying it had hit a “dead end”.

“Elections in this atmosphere would be settled in advance, therefore we should raise our voices high and say the political process cannot proceed in this way,” he told reporters.

Tension rising

Tensions have been rising over the past few weeks in Anbar, a province that makes up a third of Iraq’s territory and is populated mainly by Sunnis.

Police said the clashes on Monday broke out when armed men opened fire on police special forces trying to enter Ramadi, the city where the protest camp is located.
We hold the government of Nouri al-Maliki responsible for the bloodshed and the fighting.Mahmoud Abdel Aziz, tribal leader

Shooting and blasts were heard in parts of the city. The assailants destroyed four police vehicles and killed at least three policemen in the north of Ramadi, one police source said.

The bodies of 10 other people killed in the clashes were brought into Ramadi’s morgue, hospital and morgue sources told Reuters news agency.

Tribal leader Mahmoud Abdel Aziz, meanwhile, accused the army of firing on unarmed civilians.

“We hold the government of Nouri al-Maliki responsible for the bloodshed and the fighting,” he said.

The fighting spread to the nearby city of Fallujah, where police Captain Omar Oda said armed men burned military vehicles during clashes with security forces.

Maliki’s spokesman, Ali Mussawi, said military sources confirmed that tents at the protest site had been removed and the highway towards neighbouring Jordan and Syria reopened.

This was done “without any losses, after al-Qaeda and its members escaped from the camp to the city, and they are being pursued now,” Mussawi told AFP.

The sprawling protest site on the highway outside Ramadi, where the number of protesters ranged from hundreds to thousands, included a stage from which speakers could address crowds, a large roofed structure and dozens of tents.

Sunni politicians arrested

Protests broke out in Sunni Arab-majority areas of Iraq late last year after the arrest of guards of then-finance minister Rafa al-Essawi, an influential Sunni Arab, on terrorism charges.

The arrests were seen by Sunnis as yet another example of the Shia-led government targeting one of their leaders.

In December 2011, guards of vice president Tariq al-Hashemi, another prominent Sunni politician, were arrested and accused of terrorism. Hashemi fled abroad and has since been given multiple death sentences in absentia for charges including murder.

He had insisted he was still the legitimate vice president, but on Monday he announced his resignation and called on all Sunni members of parliament join him.

“Legally I was still the vice president of the republic. But today I add my voice to my people who have risen up in Anbar,” he told Al Jazeera.

“I stayed in this position until now because it was necessary to challenge and unite the Sunnis. They needed a rallying cause. But enough is enough.”

 

Scores killed in attacks on Iraqi Sunnis – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Scores killed in attacks on Iraqi Sunnis – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.

 

Deadly anti-government violence grips Iraq – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Deadly anti-government violence grips Iraq – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.

 

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