Al Qaeda-backed Sunni militants storm into Iraq cities

 It took years of hard fighting, and the lives of 1,300 American soldiers, to drive al Qaeda-linked fighters out of Fallujah. Now, two years after the U.S. withdrawal, they’re back.

In Anbar Province, Islamic extremists in league with al Qaeda have taken the city of Fallujah – where U.S. forces fought a ferocious battle in 2004. The fight today is between the two main branches of the Islamic faith – the Sunni and the Shia – which are now at war with eachother.

Last week, the Iraqi military went on the attack, firing at extremists who had overrun Mosques, jails and police stations in the main towns of Anbar, Fallujah and Ramadi.

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A map highlighting the Iraqi cities where clashes between Sunni and Shia are taking place
CBS
 The insurgents are reported to still be in control of Fallujah. Armed with guns and rocket-propelled grenades, they’re battling local tribesmen, and the largely U.S. trained and equipped Iraqi army.

The violence is a spillover from the savage civil war next door in Syria, where al Qaeda-linked militants have exported their cause and their men across the border. They’re mostly Sunni Muslims who want to rule this part of the world, and impose hardline Shariah law.  

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Gunmen patrol during clashes with Iraqi security forces in Fallujah, Iraq, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014.
AP
 These days though, their main enemy is no longer the U.S. military- it’s the millions of Shiite Muslims who live there, and the Shiite controlled government that rules Iraq.

 Over the past year, this religious conflict has grown. In the country America believed was headed for stable democracy, nearly 8,000 civilians were killed in 2013- a return to the kind of violence Iraqis haven’t seen since the worst years of the war.

Secretary Kerry has said America sees this as Iraq’s fight. There won’t be any U.S. boots on the ground. However, it is willing to accelerate the rate of delivery of some arms. One hundred hellfire missiles will arrive to help the Iraqi military sometime this spring, along with 10 aerial surveillance aircraft.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."

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