Sunday, May 22, 2016

Iraq launches new offensive to take back the ISIS controlled city of Fallujah

Iraqi soldiers firing a mortar. Reuters. 

Iraq has announced a new offensive to take back the ISIS controlled city of Fallujah. Reuters. Iraqi Prime Minster Haider al-Abadi called for civilians to leave the city. Iraq will engage the the city with a combination of Iraqi Army troops, police, special forces, local tribal militias, and Shiite militias. The United States is expected to provide air support. Fallujah has been under ISIS control since January of 2014, and was taken even before the fall of Mosul. The city has been under siege since last year. It isn't clear how many civilians are left in the city but the estimates vary between 60,000 and 90,000 people. Those people may be trapped as ISIS is not allowing people to flee from the city. 

My Comment:
The timing for this attack is suspicious. We had not heard anything about attacks on Fallujah recently, so this could be considered something of a surprise. Not to me. I think there is an obvious reason for this attack. 

That reason is that the major offensive launched against ISIS in Mosul has fallen apart and failed. Even the preliminary operations failed and failed hard. And ISIS was even able to launch an offensive of their own. That offensive was blunted, but only due to US airstrikes and the bravery and effectiveness of the Kurds. And it even killed a US Navy SEAL. Since then any attacks in the northern part of the country seem to have been put on hold.

With the battle for Mosul put back on the back burner yet again, Iraq needed to go elsewhere to fight ISIS. There weren't many other targets they could go after besides Fallujah. Most of central Iraq has been recovered. The Iraqis won battles in Ramadi, Hit, and other various cities and towns in the central part of the country. Though Iraq deserves credit for winning those battles, it should be noted that ISIS withdrew most of their forces from central Iraq.

Only Fallujah remains as a bastion for ISIS forces in central Iraq. Those forces, limited in number, are largely cut off from the rest of ISIS. They are surrounded and under immense pressure. Indeed, their have been reports of the city running out of food and medicine. Those shortages alone, make Fallujah a decent target on humanitarian grounds alone. Though they are entrenched, Fallujah will probably be easier to take back than Mosul would be. 

Fallujah is a tempting target, and I think that Iraq can probably take the city. It will be a tough battle for sure. Urban combat is often terrible, and I expect there to be heavy casualties on both sides. There will be house to house fighting and I am guessing that the battle will end the same way the battle for Ramadi ended; with much of the city destroyed and with very few places safe for civilians to return to. Even after the city has been taken, ISIS will leave explosives and snipers to harass the Iraqis. Iraq will also be relying on US airstrikes will add to the destruction. 

Iraq desperately needs a victory as the government of Haider al-Abadi is under immense pressure. Baghdad has come under withering terrorist attacks with major car bombings becoming an almost daily occurrence. Abadi needs to be able to say that he is doing something about these attacks and taking back Fallujah would be something, even if I am not so sure that it would actually help against these terrorist attacks. I guess it is possible that ISIS is using Fallujah as a base to attack the capital, but given how surrounded the city is, that seems unlikely. 

Abadi also needs the support of the Shiite militias. Abadi is having serious problems with the Shiites in his country and having a bunch of them fighting ISIS instead of defending the capital could help avert the massive protests he is facing right now. It's probably not a major factor, but one worth mentioning. 

One wonders what ISIS will do in response to this attack. I get the feeling that the ISIS fighters left in Fallujah have been abandoned to their fate. I don't expect ISIS to try and lift the siege, and any attacks from Fallujah itself seems unlikely. I would not be surprised if ISIS tries to take advantage of this battle to attack Iraq elsewhere. A major offensive will require the Iraqis to move their forces around and that may create weaknesses that ISIS could exploit. Given how unstable the Iraqi government is and how successful ISIS has been in the past during these kinds of situations, I almost wonder if this offensive is not worth the trouble it will cause for the Iraqis...   

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