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No place for extremism in Fallujah, officials say

By Alaa Hussain in Baghdad

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A Fallujah resident congratulates an Iraqi soldier during Iraqi Armed Forces Day celebrations in Fallujah on January 6th. [Photo from the Fallujah mayoral office Facebook page]

Though the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) controlled Fallujah from January 2014 to June 2016, the group did not succeed in instilling its radical ideology among the local population, city officials told Diyaruna.

"An extremist mindset was never a trait attributed to the people of Fallujah," said Tariq al-Abdali, head of the Sunni Endowment in Fallujah.

ISIS elements who took the city hostage tried to impose their harsh ideology on the city's population, he told Diyaruna, but were largely unsuccessful in doing so, as Islam encourages moderation and rejects rigidity and extremism.

"Mosque preachers in Fallujah today are all moderates, and all their sermons for Friday prayers focus on guiding people towards sound manners and looking for common ground in others," al-Abdali said.

This aims to reinforce values that oppose sectarianism and extremism, he said.

Fallujah's population has shown strong support for the security forces who ousted ISIS from the city, said Fallujah police chief Col. Jamal al-Jumaili.

"The people of Fallujah are standing together with all the security outfits, including the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Interior and the tribal mobilisation forces," he told Diyaruna.

The security situation in Fallujah has vastly improved, he added, largely thanks to strong public support and to the sharing of intelligence information.

On January 6th, Fallujah residents celebrated Iraqi Armed Forces Day for the first time in three years, al-Jumaili said.

The event underscored the degree of trust people have in their army and security forces, he said, which has "created a strong barrier in the face of terror groups in Fallujah".

Winning residents' trust

In order to fully win the trust of the local population and strengthen their support for the local authority, "more public services must be provided", Fallujah Mayor Issa al-Sayer told Diyaruna.

"Public service departments in Fallujah have limited capacity due to the devastating destruction of the infrastructure," he said, adding that they continue to operate as best as they are able in order to provide services.

"In the event that public services falter in the city, residents will start complaining and develop a negative view of the government," he said.

Likewise, unemployment can have negative repercussions, he added, as this can adversely affect young people's attitude towards the authorities.

That said, he added, poor public services will not lead city residents to embrace ISIS, as a "high level of awareness" has taken hold.

"It is hard to see people in any circumstances supporting terrorist groups as a way to express resentment of government policies," he said.

Al-Sayer called on the federal government to support reconstruction projects in Fallujah and Anbar province as a whole, noting that Iraq is expected to receive a cash injection following an upcoming donor conference to be held in Kuwait next month.

There has been widespread damage to the infrastructure, including roads, the power grid, sewage systems, schools and government buildings, he said, noting that all of these will require large-scale reconstruction programmes.

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