Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Civilians face impossible choice in Fallujah. Both ISIS and Shiite militias are abusing civilians.

Iraqi refugees fleeing Fallujah arrive at a refugee camp. AFP.

Civilians in Fallujah are facing attacks both from ISIS and the Shiite militia groups fighting them. Washington Post. ISIS fighters have used the 50,000 civilians in Fallujah as human shields. ISIS has also shot civilians trying to escape the city. However, civilians are not safe if they escape because the Shiite militias have also been accused of abusing civilians. The militias have been accused of beating members of the al-Aqash tribe. Hundreds of men were detained by the militias and have now been released with bruises and lacerations. At least four men were beaten to death by the militias. Other reports indicate that some of the captured civilians were executed by the militias. The battle to liberate Fallujah has been complicated by the Shiite led militias. Officially banned from the city, they have been involved with clearing operations and are now demanding to be let into Fallujah to fight. 

My Comment:
I don't think anyone is surprised that the battle for Fallujah is turning into a bloodbath. That was probably a given. And I also don't think that anyone is surprised that ISIS is abusing the civilians still unlucky enough to be in the city. Indeed, it would have been more surprising if it didn't happen. 

We shouldn't downplay those atrocities though. ISIS is treating the civilians trapped in Fallujah horribly. Using them as human shields is obviously a cowardly and disgusting act but if that was the worst thing that ISIS was doing it wouldn't be so bad. But they have gone much further then that. ISIS is so desperate to keep their human shields in Fallujah, they are shooting people that try to flee. And some people are so desperate to escape from ISIS that they have drowned in the Euphrates river while fleeing. 

It just goes to show how doomed ISIS is in Fallujah. They are not going to get any relief. The vast majority of ISIS forces have been pushed out of central Iraq, and they are in no position to launch a relief force. Every ISIS fighter in Fallujah is basically dead already. All they can hope for is a few more weeks or months of life. Keeping these civilians as human shields will help as it will slow the Iraqi offensive. With no escape and no chance of being relieved, they don't have much of a choice.

It seems as though that even if the civilians escape from ISIS they face detainment, beatings and perhaps even death at the hands of the Shiite militias. These militias have a long history of committing atrocities. When Iraqi forces took back the city of Tikrit revenge attacks occurred. Lynching, looting and arson were the norm, not the exception. After that the militias were banned from operating in Sunni dominated areas. 

The militias aren't directly participating in the battle to liberate Fallujah. The actual battle itself has been dominated by the Iraqi special forces, which have been heavily been involved in retaking cities from ISIS. They are much more trustworthy then the Shiite militias and are much less likely to conduct these kinds of attacks. The problem is that heavy use might exhaust or expend these troops to the point that they won't be available for later battles or defensive missions against ISIS. 

However, the Shiites are involved as a blocking force and have been clearing and fighting in the suburbs and villages surrounding Fallujah. And the main reason that the assault on Fallujah has sputtered out is that these militias are not cooperating with the main Iraqi forces. They are demanding to be let loose in the city. Doing so would probably end the battle but there would be other consequences.

If these Shiite militias do enter the city proper, it will be an even worse slaughter then what is happening in Fallujah already. These militias are not only motivated for sectarian reasons but for revenge as well. ISIS has been targeting Shiites in Baghdad for quite some time now. Their bombing campaign in Baghdad, which has killed hundreds of Shia Muslims, was specifically designed to motivate this kind of sectarian violence. The militias are angry, rightly so, and want revenge.

In short, if the Shiite militias are playing right into ISIS's plan if they conduct these kinds of attacks. ISIS wants to destroy Shia Islam anyways but entering into a cycle of revenge helps them. Though the Sunni Muslims trapped in ISIS cities may hate ISIS but they might decide they are the lesser of two evils. After all, better a bad life with ISIS then a certain death with the Shiite militias. Any atrocity committed by the Shiites in Fallujah will be used as propaganda for ISIS.

Iraq itself is in a no win situation here. Their military isn't strong enough to survive, let alone take back territory from ISIS, without these Shiite militias. Plus, cracking down on them would anger their Iranian allies, which has played a huge role in the survival of the country. But if they rely on these Shiite militias then the idea that Iraq is anything but a Shiite country is over. 

It will be interesting if the Iraqi government can hold these militias back. Right now they are facing quite a bit of difficulty, but they haven't overstepped their authority yet. But in the next week or so they might just decide that they no longer have to listen to the government. If that happens Iraq will either have to let them loose and deal with the atrocities they perform or try and reign them in. Reigning them in might be harder then it looks and could even lead to a civil war... 

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