Fallujah is one of the two major towns, along with Mosul in Iraq, captured by ISIS since January 2014. After nearly two and a half years under ISIS control, the government of Iraq started a fight to retake the city. The city is located 50 km (30 miles) away from west of the capital, Baghdad. The ongoing war, which began on May 23, 2016, is believed to be one of the toughest fights against ISIS by Iraq’s government with support by a US-led coalition force air strike. According to the statement by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, special forces, soldiers, police, militia, and pro-government tribesmen are supposed to be the participants for the operation. Up to 1,000 militants of ISIL are also believed to be living inside of the city. More than a week has passed since the beginning of the war and an intensified fight, including airstrikes, has continued.
Latest reports show that the joint operation against ISIL has marched in advance, especially in the north and northeast side of Fallujah. Until last Monday, a week old fight was focused on retaking villages and rural areas around Fallujah. Now, starting on Monday, May, 30, an Iraqi force will announce its new phase of operation, which will be carried out in three directions as they aim to encounter the Fallujah, ISIL bastion. However, the offense is facing a tough resistance from ISIL, particularly in southern parts of the city. Even on Wednesday, afterwards an offensive attack by ISIS against Iraqi forces resulted in heavy losses for the government forces. According to Aljazeera, on Wednesday, June 1, an estimated 130 Iraqi troops were killed by 10 suicide bombers of ISIL. ISIL militants also stormed a small town called Kubaisah, and together with a village named Al Sejar, when they killed Iraqi troops at Amiriyat al-Fallujah. Nonetheless, very optimistically, operation leaders, including the Iraqi prime minister, reiterates the saying that “victory is near” and Fallujah will be liberated soon from ISIS control.
As the fight intensively continues, the lives of tens of thousands of civilians inside the city are reportedly at “extreme risk” as they are trapped by ISIS. Prior to the start of the war on May 22, despite, Iraq’s Joint Operation Command that warned civilians to leave the city, only an estimated 3,700 people have actually fled. Around 50,000 civilian still remain inside the city, and they are trapped by ISIS. As a result of ISIL, several exit areas of the cities are remaining closed. This situation arouses the concern that ISIS may use besieged civilians as a “human shield” just as means of protecting itself from government’s ongoing offensive attack. In the eyes of humanitarians, the situation may lead to a “human catastrophe” unless warring parties allow civilians to safely escape from the ongoing fight. Until then, those innocent populations are continuing to suffer from a lack of food, water, and health services. The denial of adequate basic necessities being allowed entry by ISIS has worsened the already dire conditions.
With that said, the government has established al-Iraq camp in Ameriyat al-Falluja district and in other scattered camps that are in dire condition because of their lack of access.
What’s more is that UNICEF reported on June 1, an estimated 20,000 children are facing the risk of being forcefully recruited by ISIS for fighting. Men are also facing execution for their unwillingness to fight by the side of ISIS/ISIL.
Retaking Fallujah from ISIL control is a very strategic for the Iraqi government for several reasons: the presence of ISIS in this very city, which is nearest to the capital, Baghdad, will remain a constant threat to the government; dislodging ISIL from Fallujah is a must before liberating the Mosul-a de facto capital and its bigger bastion of ISIL in Iraq. Moreover, Fallujah is a safe haven for ISIL as it is used in order to plan and organize suicide bombings that target Baghdad.
In spite of the fact that ISIL is appearing weakened and continuously losing its territory in recent months, the existing Iraqi offensive battle for Fallujah will not be strategic since ISIL is seemingly well-entrenched and has controlled the area for more than two years. Analysts strengthen their doubt that the Sunni civilians at Fallujah, and conversely the Shiite-led government at Baghdad are supporters of neither warring parties. Notwithstanding, the Sunni populaces at Fallujah have supposedly been brainwashed for more than two years and are more likely to be supporters of ISIL, as opposed to the Iraqi government who added to the existing sectarian cleavages. To sum up, this situation may slow down Iraqi and the US-led coalition force offensive advance to retake Fallujah from ISIL, thereby the suffering of civilians will be exacerbated.
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