Fallujah Is Just the Start of Iraq’s Longest Battle

by Austin Michael Bodetti. He is a student in the Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program at Boston College. He focuses on the relationship between Islam and conflict in Syria and Sudan.

Iraqi pro-government forces advance towards Fallujah (Photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images).

Iraqi pro-government forces advance towards Fallujah
(Photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images).

Threatened by military and political enemies, Iraq has struggled in the war against the Islamic State (IS). The Iraqi government has done its best to placate anti-corruption protesters in Baghdad while focusing on campaigns in the north and west of the country at the behest of the American-led coalition bombing IS daily. These two goals have often overwhelmed the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).

After protesters earlier this year breached the Green Zone, which houses many of Iraq’s parliamentarians and most of its ministries, the Iraqi government sought a military victory to offset its political troubles. “Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq appears to have launched the sudden assault on the city of Fallujah last month in an effort to distract from the political turmoil in Baghdad,” reported Newsweek. “And to some extent, it has worked.” Fallujah, once the City of Mosques but now a city of ashes and spent cartridges, brought the Iraqi government the victory that it needed.

The Badr Organization, the largest and oldest of the Shia militias and the closest to the Iraqi government, seems to have ignored the Prime Minister’s Office. — Austin Michael Bodetti, “Fallujah: The Iraq Victory That Could Lose the War“, The Daily Beast, 21.06.2016.

The Third Battle of Fallujah, so named following earlier American operations there during the Iraq War, was a decisive victory for the ISF. It has provided lessons for the upcoming offensive against Mosul, IS’s Iraqi capital and the country’s second-largest city. “The operation demonstrated how rival US and Iranian-backed forces can avoid conflict and even cooperate in the battle against ISIS,” noted Time, “but major questions remain about how to secure and rebuild Fallujah, resettle the tens of thousands of civilians who fled the fighting and establish a sustainable peace in a city that has long been riven by sectarian divisions.” In Fallujah’s southern suburbs, the Iraqi government faces a humanitarian nightmare caring for the thousands of internally displaced people who fled the city. News agencies and newspapers are reporting that Shia militias aligned with the Iraqi government are abusing Sunni civilians. The aftermath might cause more problems than the battle itself did.

The Second Battle of Tikrit’s aftermath may help predict the future of Fallujah and Mosul. “Tikrit is a wounded city where the inhabitants have woken up to a harsh reality,” observed Deutsche Welle. “Just like in Fallujah, many thought that IS would bring back the former Sunni regime and chase out the despised Shiite rulers that took over from Saddam Hussein. Both cities welcomed the group in 2014 with open arms. But when local politicians and high-ranking officials were killed, and Sharia law was introduced, many fled.” As in Fallujah, Shia militiamen committed war crimes and conducted ethnic cleansing in Tikrit. The same will likely happen with the campaign to retake Mosul.

Iraqi pro-government forces advance towards Fallujah (Photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images).

Iraqi pro-government forces advance towards Fallujah
(Photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images).

The Iraqi government’s willingness to cooperate with Shia militias guilty of crimes against humanity portends that it will sacrifice human rights for its political longevity. A journalist for The Daily Beast present in Fallujah, witnessed that Abdulwahab al-Saadi, a commander of the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service — which is part of the American-backed special operations forces — met Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of the Badr Organization, an Iranian-backed Shia militia. The Prime Minister’s Office had ordered the militia to stay on the outskirts of the city, but the Institute for the Study of War asserted that Badr had entered the city center alongside the Federal Police. Despite American and Sunni pressure, the Iraqi government refuses to discipline the Shia militias.

Obviously, the Shia militias’ offensive against Fallujah complicates things in important ways. They don’t fully respond to the Iraqi government. They frighten the Sunnis, largely because they have participated in ethnic cleansing. — Kenneth Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former CIA intelligence analyst, said in an email.

A quick victory in Fallujah and the impending offensive against Mosul have raised questions of what will happen for Iraq after the end of IS. “According to experts, the relatively quick sweep by Iraqi security forces of Fallujah in late June still leaves fears on the table that ISIS will continue a push to infiltrate into other areas outside of Iraq and Syria,” said Epoch Times. The Sunni militants’ expansion from Iraq and Syria into Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen and even Indonesia and the Philippines has concerned Western officials for some time. Meanwhile, The Atlantic featured an article describing the hellish conditions that Sunnis fleeing IS-held territory must endure as they avoid vengeful militiamen and find new homes. For them in particular, the future looks bleak.

The strategy for retaking Mosul looks haphazard at best. Though the Prime Minister claimed progress as the ISF retook a military base in Iraq’s north, familiar problems have returned to Baghdad. The Iraqi government had to dismiss officials responsible for the capital’s security after some of the deadliest bombings in Iraq’s history. Protesters, incensed that the ISF’s victory over IS in Fallujah failed to stop such attacks like their government have promised, are clogging the streets. Some Iraqis are demanding that the Iraqi government withdraw militiamen, policemen, and soldiers from the front lines to reinforce and secure Baghdad. Though such measures might prevent more bombings, they would also likely delay the campaign to retake Mosul. For now, Baghdad remains in turmoil.

The ISF have a difficult road ahead as they battle IS in Iraq’s north and west, where its fighters have access to Syria’s strategic depth. For now, the Iraqi Civil War is nowhere near over.

This entry was posted in Armed Forces, Austin Michael Bodetti, English, International, Iraq, Terrorism.

2 Responses to Fallujah Is Just the Start of Iraq’s Longest Battle

  1. More background information: Paul Iddon, “Will Baghdad’s deadliest bombing affect plans to liberate Mosul?“, rudaw, 07.07.2016.

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