Various reports show that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are preparing to move on Islamic State forces holding the infamous Iraqi city of Fallujah.
Iraqi Lt. Gen. Abdulwahab al-Saedi, an Iraqi counter-terrorism forces commander who will be leading the attack, confirmed the upcoming assault Sunday. Various components of the ISF will participate in the attack, including counter-terrorism units, police forces, tribal groups and the Iranian-backed Shia Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs). U.S. forces are said to have already set the stage for the attack, with F-16 fighter aircraft bombing various targets in the city.
Fallujah became synonymous with death and destruction after it witnessed two of the bloodiest battles of the U.S. occupation in 2004.
“Your sons, the heroic fighters in the armed forces, are preparing to achieve a new victory,” said Saad al-Hadithi, spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, in a statement released Sunday. “Liberating the city of Fallujah will be a victory for all Iraqis and will pave the way for the return of stability and normalcy to the province of Anbar.”
The composition of the force attacking Fallujah could add as many problems as it solves. The PMUs are known to be inconsistent in their fighting ability, but more importantly, they are known to have serious discipline problems. The majority Shia Muslim population in Iraq is considered heretical by the Sunni ISIS. Sectarian divisions between the Sunni and Shia groups have been an ongoing problem in Iraq since the insurgency began after the initial 2003 invasion. The PMUs have been frequently accused of engaging in war crimes against Sunni populations, and there is serious concern that the same could happen in Fallujah.
It was initially believed that Iraq’s second city of Mosul would be the next major target of the ISF, however, al-Abadi announced a change of course Friday that would target Fallujah and then Mosul. Targeting Fallujah first could be problematic for the Iraqi government, given that Shia cleric and militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr is allegedly preparing his so-called “Peace Brigades” for a march on Mosul. If the peace brigades beat the ISF to Mosul, the predominantly Sunni city which acts as ISIS’ capital in Iraq could be ravaged by the Peace Brigades seeking revenge for their fellow Shia.
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