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The battle of Fallujah: an important testing ground.



The battle of Fallujah: an important testing ground.

In the last weeks the Iraqi military forces - with the support of several units of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and the collaboration of Sunni armed groups - started the operation “Breaking Terrorism” to free Fallujah, one of the biggest cities of the governorate of the Anbar, held by the militants of the self-proclaimed Islamic State since the beginning of 2014. In the first hours of the 23rd of May, the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, referring to the presence of ISIS in Fallujah, declared: “ There are no options for Da’esh except leaving the city!” giving thus the official start to the military activities to circle and enter the city. At present, the operations of the liberation forces are still underway, but thanks to an high level of collaboration many successes have been already achieved, first of all the access to the core of Fallujah.

The battle to liberate Fallujah is fundamental and it is one of the top priorities in fighting the self-proclaimed Islamic State for two main reasons: firstly, Fallujah represents a very important stronghold for Da’esh . In fact, the city has been firmly controlled by the terrorist organization since January 2014, six months before the fall of Mosul and the self-proclamation of the Islamic State. Therefore, it is evident that the liberation of Fallujah would implicate for ISIS a further significant weakening and would foster the beginning of the military operations in Mosul, the decisive fight to defeat definitely Da’esh. Secondly, the military activities to free Fallujah are essentially an important testing ground both for the Iraqi Government and the military forces. In this sense, for Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi - who has consistently invested in the operations related to the liberation of Fallujah - a successful military campaign would be a considerable accomplishment useful to re-gain credibility on the internal field, where he is facing a serious political impasse and strong popular protests that are undermining the stability of Iraq. On the military side, these operations and their results will be an important base for evaluating competences and capacities of Iraqi military forces to fight in an area extremely influenced by 13 years of sectarian conflicts, reinforcing military techniques and modus operandi, useful to the final battle in Mosul.

However, there are many concerns and uncertainties related to the risks of new sectarian violence and to the humanitarian situation. According to some unofficial sources, some of the Shiite militias – who are joining the military operations in the encirclement activities but are formally banned from entering the city - have perpetrated acts of violence against the Sunni community. Another considerable problem is the presence of civilians in the area of Fallujah. According to the latest reports, from 50.000 to 90.000 adults and children are still blocked inside the city. In the last weeks, almost 5.000 people have been able to flee the conflict zone, while the Iraqi authorities and international partners have managed to build special camps, already overcrowded, where more than 3.800 displaced people are currently living and receiving the help and assistance of UN agencies.