Thousands of Iraqis gathered in Fallujah on Saturday, 26 January, to bury the protesters killed the day before by Iraqi Army fire. At a protest following the funerals, demonstrators denounced the government in language reminiscent of the early stages of the uprising in Syria, chanting "Listen Maliki, we are free people" and "Take your lesson from Bashar.” Many protesters displayed Saddam-era flags, signaling their sympathy with the former Ba’ath regime. Photos from the funeral also show demonstrators waving the black flag of al-Qaeda.
In a televised interview broadcast on Saturday, prominent Anbari tribal leader Ahmed Abu Risha issued an ultimatum giving the government seven days to turn over those responsible for killing the protesters or face "losses among their ranks." Abu Risha’s statements echoed threats that other prominent tribal sheikhs, including Ali Hatem al- Suleiman, had issued on Friday. Tribal leaders, rather than local or national Sunni politicians, are likely guiding the crowds’ responses to the crisis, for now. But it is difficult to see how Maliki can meet the sheikhs’ ultimatum.
Also on Saturday, militants continued their attacks against Iraqi army positions in and around Fallujah. Iraqi media reported clashes between gunmen and security forces in the Moheet and Julan neighborhoods of eastern Fallujah. Militants also overran a military post in northern Fallujah after attacking it with mortars and RPGs. In a separate incident, the Iraqi Security Forces, via the Anbar Operations Command, reported that protesters overran and set fire to an army checkpoint, but that no one was hurt in the incident. Three off-duty soldiers en route to Baghdad were also kidnapped south of the city that day.
The al-Qaeda linked Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), which claimed responsibility for Friday’s attacks against government forces, is likely linked to Saturday’s incidents. The group has tried to escalate current crisis through provocative attacks, and it is possible that it could draw increased support from disaffected Sunnis as the standoff with the government turns violent. It is also possible that the group’s actions are being tolerated right now by Anbari tribal leaders who have sought to maintain control of their constituents while satisfying demands for revenge.