Iraqi jihadists on warparth since US withdrawal

BAGHDAD (AFP) - Two-and-a-half years after the US withdrawal from Iraq, jihadists now control swathes of the country's northwest along the border with Syria, where they are also fighting.

Below are the main developments in the jihadists' advance, which has been facilitated by the internal conflict between the Sunni minority and the ruling Shiites:

- 2011-

On December 22, four days after the US withdrawal from Iraq, a series of attacks in Baghdad, in which 60 are killed, is claimed by a branch of al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). Led by the shadowy Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISI was set up after the US-led invasion in 2003.

The ISI is particularly influential in the provinces of Anbar, Nineveh and Kirkuk, where a jihadist insurrection inflicted heavy losses on US forces between 2003 and 2006, especially in Fallujah in Anbar province.


Considering itself mistreated and sidelined from positions of power, Iraq's Sunni minority launches massive demonstrations which continue throughout 2013, especially in Anbar.

Fuelled by Sunni ire and the conflict in Syria, unrest reaches its worst point for five years, with 9,475 civilians killed in 2013 according to the non-governmental organisation Iraq Body Count.

On a daily basis, bombs devastate markets, mosques and even funerals. The jihadists attack prisons and army barracks.

Security forces try to react by breaking up Sunni camps and carrying out huge operations against the jihadists.


Allied to some Sunni tribes and benefiting from the sprawling desert in the west to hide out, jihadists claiming allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), an offshoot of the ISI and which also operates in Syria, emerge in April.


On January 2-4, jihadists take control of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi, and Baghdad faces losing control of major towns for the first time since the US invasion in 2003. Some 500,000 people flee the fighting, according to the United Nations.

Just before the April 30 legislative elections, the ISIL fights at the entrance to Baghdad and parades in broad daylight at Abu Ghraib some 20km from the capital.

On May 5, insurgents attack Samarra, 110km to the north of Baghdad, a symbolic city since an attack against a revered Shiite shrine in 2006 which sparked the sectarian war of 2006-2007. After fierce fighting, the army, helped by tribal members, retakes the city.

A month later jihadists attack the university of Anbar in Ramadi and targets in Mosul, the country's second biggest city and capital of Nineveh province.

On June 10, Isil and other jihadists seize Mosul and take control of Nineveh province, sparking a mass exodus of some half a million people. It also overruns sections of the nearby provinces of Kirkuk and Salaheddin.

The authorities seem powerless faced with the jihadists' dazzling advance. Iraq premier Nouri al-Maliki offers to arm civilians who are prepared to take on the insurgents. Powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who led the once-feared Mahdi Army militia, calls for the formation of units to defend religious sites in Iraq.