Fallujah: Iraq’s bastion of Sunni Arab dissent

From rising up against British colonialism and US occupation to battling al-Qaeda and ISIL, Iraqi city has seen it all.

Fallujah, Iraq
The Sunni city of Fallujah has a symbol and a history [Khalid Mohammed/AP]

Fallujah is a city with many names. The city of mosques; the city of minarets; the bastion of the resistance; the city which defeated the US army; the city of men; the city of terrorism; the cancerous tumour; the city of best kebabs.

It has a symbol and it has a history.

The city, among other parts of Anbar province and Iraq as a whole, rose against British colonisation in 1920.

After grabbing the attention of the world’s media after the US occupation of Iraq in 2003, Fallujah quickly turned into a hub of armed resistance groups fighting foreign occupying forces and Iraqi government forces.

It became a symbol of resistance among mainly Sunni Arab and some Shia Iraqis, neighbouring Arab countries and the wider Muslim world.

READ MORE: Residents fleeing Fallujah tell of ‘horrific’ ISIL rule

But the city gradually turned into an al-Qaeda stronghold.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the late Jordanian leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, started a relentless campaign against foreign forces.

He ordered waves of suicide bombings against foreign and Iraqi troops, the targeting of Shia Muslims, kidnapping and beheading of foreigners.

The burned bodies of four Blackwater contractors hung on a bridge and gruesome videos of beheadings are still vivid memories for many people.

Over the years, Zarqawi’s group turned into the Islamic State of Iraq and then eventually transformed to present day ISIL, also known as ISIS.

US-led offensives

The US military led two major assaults in 2004 on the city. In the first battle of Fallujah, it couldn’t enter the city where only a few hundred armed men were entrenched inside.

And in the second, the US military almost levelled the city and faced accusations of using non-conventional weapons as it deployed tens of thousands of Marine Corps personnel.

The Americans kept their soldiers in Anbar until they withdrew in 2011 to make sure that the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi remained calm.


Many in these two cities brag that their province is where most casualties among the US military occurred.

This gave Fallujah pride and became a symbol among its residents and its supporters in and outside Iraq.

With the help of local tribes, US and Iraqi government troops turned the tide on al-Qaeda and took control of the city.

But Fallujah kept the spirit of rejecting government policies. The men who were fighting the Americans and government forces were killed, jailed or simply returned to their daily jobs. 

Discrimination felt

Fallujah is Sunni. Its residents, like many other Sunni parts of Iraq, feel they are being discriminated against and targeted by sectarian Shia-led governments.

Large weekly protests started in late 2012 into 2013 in six Iraqi provinces, including in the city Fallujah. They demanded the government to end what they say was the marginalisation and targeting of Sunnis. 

The government of Nouri al-Maliki, the then prime minister who labelled the protests rotten, ignored the calls and ordered troops to disperse the gatherings using force.

Analyst on battle for Fallujah: ‘This is not a strategy to defeat ISIL’

Fallujah quickly became the first major city to fall to ISIL in 2014.

The government of Haider al-Abadi blamed many of the suicide attacks on ISIL using Fallujah as a base to attack Baghdad.

Leaders of Shia armed units, known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces, started an unprecedented wave of statements and comments aimed at the city. 

Influential militia leaders were keen to show their presence near the frontlines.

Everyone wants to benefit from achieving victory over ISIL, especially in Fallujah.

Not all residents of the city are members of or sympathisers with ISIL. And not all of them trust the government and its collaboration with the Shia militias. 

A new chapter of the city’s history is being written.

Source: Al Jazeera