The U.S. and Iraqi military assault on Fallouja is drawing a diverse reaction from Iraqi citizens. Many decry the images of destruction, but residents in several cities describe the campaign as a painful necessity and the only way to quell the insurgent violence that continues to wrack the nation.
“They should have engaged Fallouja months ago in order to get rid of the terrorists who work against the interests of the Iraqi people and try to impede democracy in Iraq,” said Muqdad Ali, a 30-year-old philosophy student in the Shiite Muslim-dominated city of Najaf, in the south.
Others, however, condemned the assault as unjustified aggression.
“The Americans did this to fight the Muslims,” said Karim Hassan, 27, a Baghdad laborer. “Families are suffering there due to the war and the bombing. This is a wrong act. We as Muslims support” the Falloujans.
Opinions among citizens in four Iraqi cities were largely split along Iraq’s traditional Sunni-Shiite fault line, highlighting the political tightrope interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi must walk as the Fallouja campaign progresses.
Allawi considers the taming of Fallouja a vital step before parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for January. But in the process, he risks further alienating the country’s Sunni minority and provoking a large-scale boycott that would threaten the legitimacy of those elections.
The political repercussions have already begun.
The Iraqi Islamic Party, a major Sunni religious party in Allawi’s government, withdrew in protest Tuesday and said it planned to boycott the elections. However, the party’s highest ranking government representative, Minister of Minerals and Industry Hachim Hassani broke with his colleagues and announced his intention to remain at his post.
Among Shiite religious leaders, representatives of radical cleric Muqtada Sadr have criticized the attack and called for unified opposition. But Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has, so far, remained silent.
Still, public sentiment about the campaign is mixed and muted compared to the outrage that followed the U.S. assault on Fallouja in April. That attack was abruptly halted amid a near rebellion by Sunni members of the now-dissolved Iraqi Governing Council.
The April action also was highly unpopular among a broad cross-section of the Iraqi people. But the current campaign comes with a pair of mitigating factors: expectations of a lower civilian casualty rate after thousands of Fallouja residents fled before the fighting; and six months of steady terrorist attacks that have left many Iraqis desperate for stability and security.
Special correspondents Roaa Ahmed in Mosul, Hassan Halawa in Samawah, Saad Saadik in Najaf and Saif Rasheed in Baghdad contributed to this report.