Hellfire missiles delivered to Iraq. Why now?

Hellfire missiles: The US delivered 100 Hellfire missiles to help Iraqi forces fight against an Al Qaeda splinter group. The Iraqi warplanes frequently fire Hellfire missiles at militant positions in the embattled western Anbar province.

Iraqi security forces in clashes with al Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the city of Ramadi in February 2014. The US sent 100 Hellfire missiles to Iraq to help Iraqi troops.

The United States delivered 100 Hellfire missiles, along with assault rifles and ammunition to Iraq as part of its anti-terrorism assistance to the country, the U.S. embassy to Iraq said on Sunday.

In a statement, it said the delivery was made earlier this month in order to help bolster Iraq forces fighting a breakaway Al Qaeda  group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

"It is essential that Iraqi Security Forces are equipped with modern and effective weaponry given the serious threat... the ISIL now poses to Iraq and the region," said the statement, which also promised to send more weapons to Iraq in the coming weeks.

It added that since mid-January, Iraqi security forces had received more than 11 million rounds of ammunition, as well as thousands of machine guns, sniper rifles, assault rifles, and grenades.

The Iraqi warplanes frequently fire Hellfire missiles at militant positions in the embattled western Anbar province.

Since late December, Iraq's western cities have seen fierce clashes pitting government security forces and their tribal Sunni militia allies against Al Qaeda-linked militants and other insurgent groups. The insurgents hold the city of Fallujah and parts of Anbar's provincial capital, Ramadi.

While Al Qaeda linked insurgents have made gains, The Christian Science Monitor observes that they may be short-lived if recent history is any indication.

The Sunni Arab tribes along the Euphrates River in Syria and Iraq's Anbar Province have strong cultural and familial ties, and many Syrians flocked to Iraq to fight the US and its allies in the area in the mid-2000s. That's a key reason that the Islamic State in Iraq was able to merge relatively seamlessly with Syrian jihadis to become the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) last year.

During the US war in Iraq, the group quickly wore out its welcome with the major local tribal confederations and the general public. Summary executions of locals for violating Islamic law, floggings, and general contempt for tribal practices and authority saw to that – as did the direct threat they posed to the economic interests of powerful figures in the region, who had long controlled lucrative smuggling routes and didn't appreciate the interference of the so-called mujahideen. That opened the door for the Sahwa, or "awakening," in which Sunni Arab tribes took up arms against the jihadis in exchange for money and political influence promised by the US military. 

The same dynamics are in place today. Anbar hates and fears the central government in Baghdad since, after all, the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has treated the region and its leaders like dirt. But many leading tribal figures don't much like the jihadis either. They may passively support them, or even join forces with them against what they see as a greater enemy – the fighting in Fallujah and Ramadi was touched off by Mr. Maliki's decision to use the military to violently clear year-old protest encampments against his government on Dec. 30. But longterm, they don't want to be run by any outsiders.

What this means is that while Fallujah and Ramadi are clearly not in the government's control, they're also not really in "Al Qaeda's" control either.

Meanwhile, two police officials said a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a joint security patrol near Ramadi Sunday afternoon, killing three policemen and two soldiers.

Both officers spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of 5 free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.