BAGHDAD (AP) — Fighting in Iraq's western Anbar province, now in its fifth month, appears to have bogged down, with government forces unable to drive out Islamic militants who took over one of the area's main cities. But the impact is being felt much further, with the repercussions rippling through the country's economy to hit consumers and businesses.
The large, desert province is a major crossroads. The main highways linking Baghdad and other parts of Iraq to Syria and Jordan run through it. So fighting has not only dislodged thousands of residents from their homes and forced shutdowns of their businesses. It has also disrupted shipping, inflating prices of goods in Baghdad and elsewhere. Fears of the road have gotten so bad Iraq has had to stop shipments of oil to Jordan.
Anwar Salah, co-owner of al-Baqiee travel agency in Baghdad, said his company used to run more than 13 trips a day by SUVs shuttling passengers between Baghdad and the Jordanian capital, Amman.
Now people avoid the highway, which runs near the flashpoint Anbar cities of Fallujah and Anbar, fearing militant checkpoints or clashes. So his firm is down to one trip every other day, and profits have plunged by 90 percent, he said.
"Most of the drivers who used to work for me are now either jobless or working in other professions," he said. "We are part of the country's miserable situation."
Militants, many of from the al-Qaida-breakaway group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, overran Fallujah and parts of Anbar's capital, Ramadi, at the beginning of the year, taking advantage of tensions between the Sunni community, which dominates Anbar, and the Shiite-led central government.
Since then, government forces backed by Sunni tribal fighters opposed to al-Qaida have battled the militants with little success. The forces encircle Fallujah, but it remains completely under militants' control. In Ramadi, where militants control several districts, the fighting swings to and fro: Government forces may retake an area during the day, only to lose it again by nightfall or within days.