The Daily Beast reports: Twenty-three days after the Iraqi security forces started a major operation aiming to retake besieged Fallujah, the forces are still fighting to control the first neighborhood of the Anbar city.
Much of the murkiness surrounding the battle to expel ISIS from Fallujah, which lies 64 kilometers to the west of Baghdad and has long been a cynosure of the Sunni insurgency, has to do with who, exactly, is doing the fighting. And that’s a question that touches on Iraq’s ever-parlous sectarianism.
The United States insists that Shia militias, many of whom are avowedly Islamist and fighting for their own version of holy war, must not enter Fallujah and should instead confine their activities to the outskirts or suburbs of the city. The Pentagon has been providing air cover only on the south and western fronts where professional counterterrorism forces, the Iraqi army units, Sunni tribal forces and local police have operated. The northern front, where the militias and Iraq’s Federal Police are located, have seen no U.S. air strikes.
Perhaps for that reason, the south has seen more progress. Al-Shuhada, a neighborhood at the southern doorstep of Fallujah, is still contested with fierce clashes between Iraqi Security Forces and ISIS jihadists. Although earlier statements by Iraqi commanders were claiming they have completely controlled al-Shuhada neighborhood, Sabah Numan, spokesperson of elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), told The Daily Beast, “We are currently in the first al-Shuhada neighborhood and we have been able to liberate 90 percent of it.”
Yet recent violations against Sunni civilians fleeing ISIS’s captivity in the north have complicated efforts to press on.
According to an official investigation carried out by the Anbar governorate, at least 49 people have been killed by Shia militias in two towns: Saqlawiyah, 8 kilometers northwest of Fallujah, and Al-Karmah, 16 kilometers northeast of the city. Additionally, 643 men have been declared missing between June 3 and June 5. The investigation records that have been signed by Sohaib al-Rawi, the governor of Anbar province, also state that “all detainees have been subject to severe collective torture.” Iraq’s Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi tweeted, “Harassment of IDPs is a betrayal of the sacrifices of our brave forces’ liberation operations to expel Daesh [ISIS] from Iraq.” [Continue reading…]