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The Battle of Fallujah…

By: Darko Lazar

The battle for Fallujah is the most concerted effort yet in Iraq’s fight against Daesh. Government forces, the Popular Mobilization Units and tribal fighters are advancing toward the common goal of annihilating one of the bastions of the Daesh terror group.

An estimated 20,000 to 33,000 Iraqi fighters are taking part in Operation Break Terrorism, focused on dislodging Daesh from its last major stronghold in the western Anbar province and the country’s Sunni heartland.

The operation has already made significant progress. Iraqi forces have eliminated a number of senior Daesh figures in Fallujah, while militants have abandoned their positions in the eastern and northern outskirts of the city.

Moreover, as previous battles have shown, when Daesh is pinned down, it tends to resort to leaving behind only a core group of fighters numbering in the hundreds. The intention here is not to hold on to or defend the city but rather to hold off the attacking force for as long as possible, while inflicting the maximum number of casualties.

Thus triumph for the Iraqi forces in Fallujah – which comes on the heels of an important victory in the nearby town of Rutba on May 19 and the liberation of Anbar’s provincial capital Ramadi late last year – is a foregone conclusion.

Previous successes against Daesh in cities like Tikrit have shown the ability of the integrated Iraqi forces to completely cleanse areas of militants, rehabilitating the city and allowing its inhabitants to return and restore normal life there.

According to the former Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, “a victory in Fallujah would not only be symbolic, but would also give great momentum to the fight against Daesh.”

The strategic city of Fallujah is a valuable prize for obvious reasons. Only a thirty-minute drive from Baghdad, Fallujah has been used by Daesh as a springboard for attacking the capital, which has witnessed a spike in suicide bombings in recent weeks, resulting in hundreds of casualties.

Fallujah – one of the first urban areas to fall into the hands of Daesh in January 2014, months before the terror group overran Iraq’s second city of Mosul – has also served as the breeding ground for terrorist groups since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. So this is by no means the first battle for Fallujah.

Recurrent American efforts in 2004 to retake the city from Daesh predecessor Al Qaeda in Iraq were the bloodiest of the nearly decade-long US-led occupation of Iraq.

The bombardment, which reduced the city to rubble several times, was compared to the “Nazi invasion and occupation of much of the European continent” by one of the journalists covering the carnage. Today, the Pentagon is only involved in Operation Break Terrorism by ‘advising’ Iraqi forces. The Americans, however, are not solely concerned with liberating Fallujah.

The US military spokesman in Baghdad, Col. Steve Warren, told Fox News that the US-led coalition is not going to “drop bombs in support of the Shiite militias”. Warren was referring to the Popular Mobilization Units, who are based on the outskirts of Fallujah, and have vowed not to enter the city due to sectarian sensitivities.

“Any real effort against Daesh on the ground should include the Popular Mobilization Units and the tribes. Both of these are very necessary in the western region [of Anbar], in order to eliminate the areas where Daesh may be able to hide,” Dabbagh said.

However, the sheer presence of these Shiite-led units, which have proven themselves as the most effective fighting force against Daesh, has become a major complication for the United States and their allies.

“I think the Americans do not want to create too many obstacles on the ground for Daesh, and that is why they were reluctant and opposed the participation of the Popular Mobilization Units,” added Dabbagh.

Flooding Sunni and Kurdish provinces across both Iraq and Syria with thousands of ground troops, the Americans have been coordinating their alleged fight against Daesh with the Saudis, who are widely known to be supporting terrorist groups in the region.

Both Riyadh and Washington are hoping to limit the role of Shiite-led factions and their Iranian backers, in Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish-dominated regions.

In January, the Saudi ambassador to Baghdad, Thamer Sabhan, sparked a wave of condemnation in Iraq when he suggested that the Popular Mobilization Units should not be allowed to enter Anbar province.

“The refusal by the Kurds and [the Sunni province of] Anbar to let the Popular Mobilization Units come to their regions shows that these units are not accepted by Iraqi society,” Sabhan said during a televised interview.

Meanwhile the Americans have effectively reoccupied parts of Iraq, including Anbar province, in what can only be described as a formula for the creation of military protectorates once Daesh is ‘defeated’.

And the increasingly weak government in Baghdad may have little say in the matter.

The battle for Fallujah is unfolding under a cloud of political uncertainty. Turmoil in the Iraqi capital culminated in attacks by angry mobs on the offices of Prime Minister Haidar al Abadi and the country’s parliament. The anti-government protesters are demanding political reforms and an end to corruption driven by the political system imposed on the country during the US occupation.

London based Middle East affairs expert Zayd al-Isa believes that, “the main and principal target of the American administration since 2003 has been adamantly demanding a weak and ineffective government in Iraq.

“It has pushed very hard for installing weak personalities in order to run the show in Iraq. It has always tried to shore up its influence in Iraq by installing weak governments in Baghdad, which always require American assistance, American meddling and negotiations with the Americans, allowing Washington to oversee the work of the government there,” Isa adds.

Efforts to liberate Fallujah come in the lead up to the much-anticipated operation to retake Mosul. But with the Americans trying to dictate both the pace of the campaign against Daesh and its participants, many open questions remain as to what kind of Iraq emerges out of the ashes of Daesh.

Source: Al-Ahed news

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