(GPA) – In the past several days the Iraqi military has made several strategic gains against the Islamic State (IS) in regions of the city of Fallujah. These are great P.R. victories for the Iraqi army yet a similar offensive, planned for another major IS stronghold in Mosul looks as if it will be delayed.
The offensive outside of Fallujah began over the weekend and has seen the Iraqi military gaining ground in the neighborhoods surrounding the major urban center of the city. The Iraqis worked with the assistance of air support provided by the anti-IS coalition led by the United States. The battle for Fallujah has also shown some of the problems that the Iraqi army will face in the future in trying to counter the brutality of IS.
The citizens of Fallujah have faced the brunt of the hostility since the coalition forces began attacking the city. The offensive was already placed on hold at the beginning of the month due to fears that IS would end up using civilians as a human shield, this week those fears have been confirmed by several major media outlets and humanitarian groups.
Citizens of Fallujah are directly in the crossfire of what may be a drawn out offensive and on top of suffering the usual dangers of being in a war zone, the Islamic State has implemented measures of extreme cruelty in order to show the world that they will not go quietly. There are reports already emerging that IS has been murdering civilians trying to flee the city, even going so far as to shoot unarmed men and women trying to swim or float across the Euphrates river to safety. Even those who do survive the escape and arrive in government controlled areas are entering refugee camps run by a state with no money or resources to care for them.
Nobody thinks leaving these areas under IS control is a plausible option for Iraq but the lessons being learned in Fallujah have led to some reconsideration of the next big offensive being planned by Iraqi and US forces to retake another key city.
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Mosul is the next big IS stronghold on the list of regions to retake yet US advisers have advised putting off any action there for possibly a month or more. Mosul has already been a major target for US drone strikes against key IS leaders and the militants have been reacting in a similar fashion to Fallujah. Although direct killings of fleeing civilians haven’t started, IS is already killing suspected spies within the city and burning those who refuse to do the groups bidding.
The US is ferrying equipment and supplies by cargo plane but it looks as if the Iraqi army stationed near Mosul is moving at a slow pace and is expected to slow even more in the summer months as well as through the holy month of Ramadan. On top of these factors, a majority of Iraqi equipment needs to be repaired or replaced while IS is still using prime pieces of captured US supplied equipment from when Mosul fell. There are also issues of a renewed level of Iranian influence in the Iraqi government and defense forces which the US must handle delicately in order to avoid further factional conflicts after IS is pushed back.
Fallujah has highlighted the inadequacy of preparations and overall strategy by anti-IS forces as well as possible pitfalls that will arise in other regions as the Iraqi military presses forward. The next few months will be difficult for the Iraqi military and will truly be a test of their ability as well as the additional training and equipment provided by the US but could hopefully lead back to a more stable and secure nation.