This week brought another offensive on ISIL’s Eastern front near the Iraqi city of Fallujah by Iraqi security forces. It is estimated that the assault on the city will be hard fought by Iraqi security forces, and highly dangerous for the nearly 50,000 residents still stuck in the city, as ISIL is expected to use the civilian population to its advantage to shield against the incoming assault. ISIL knows they are losing ground and has adjusted their strategy accordingly, as Paul Salem, the vice president for policy and research at the Middle East Institute in Washington, mentioned in a Time magazine article, “I don’t think they expect to win, but if they can take tens of thousands of civilians down with them, that’ll make people pause when you think about Mosul and other places (1).” This poses a serious threat and delay to pushing ISIL back territorially if their policy becomes that of a “scorched Earth” policy. It will likely delay any offensive into Mosul, ISIL’s largest stronghold in Iraq, if it becomes clear that ISIL will take the civilian populace with it.
The fight for Fallujah is becoming more and more symbolic and political for the current Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Fallujah is just 40 miles west of Baghdad, and is a sign of ISIL’s ability to hold major cities in the heart of Iraq. However, some in the U.S. military believe that Fallujah isn’t nearly as strategically significant as Mosul, indicating a worry that a failure or high casualty assault could lead to a halt in the offensive against ISIL’s Eastern front. On May 13th, Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, mentioned that “Fallujah doesn’t really have any tactical influence on Mosul (2).” This indicates that Fallujah is more politically significant for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to silence his many critics. However, control of Fallujah is important in order to show that ISIL no longer can have a stronghold so close to Baghdad. This assault must be carried out properly with minimal collateral damage, even with ISIL’s brutal strategy. A failure could hinder further operations; slowing the advance on ISIL to Mosul. The U.S. must ensure that proper consultation and air cover is given to the Iraqi security forces to ensure Fallujah is not seen as a failure.
(1) Malsin, Jared. "How a Victory Over ISIS in Fallujah Could Actually Hurt Iraq."Time. Time, 31 May 2016. Web. 05 June 2016. <http://time.com/4353000/iraq-battle-fallujah-isis/>.
(2) Bradley, Matt, and Ziad Jaber. "What's Really Behind the Stalled Fight for Fallujah?" NBC News. N.p., 3 June 2016. Web. 05 June 2016. <http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/analysis-fight-fallujah-highlights-abadi-s-political-battle-n584731>.
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