Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has announced that the operation to retake Fallujah has begun.Named “Operation Breaking Terror” the operation is aimed at removing the last major ISIS stronghold in the south. The assault comes amid calls from Shia leaders in the capital who believe the city is a source of ISIS suicide bombers that have killed over 150 people in Baghdad last week, prompting riots in the Green Zone.
In America the name “Fallujah” has become synonymous with bloody warfare after dozens of Marines died taking the city back from insurgents in 2004, during the Second Battle of Fallujah. The current assault is expected to no less difficult for the Iraqis. The city was one of the first to fall to ISIS back in 2014 and still retains a sizable force of ISIS fighters. Unlike previous battles like Ramadi where ISIS left behind booby traps, snipers and small units, Fallujah is expected to be ISIS’s last major stand in southern Iraq and resistance is going to be heavy.
To combat this force, Iraq had massed seven “brigades”totaling 1,000 to 1,500 troops (those are actually regiment sized units) each to surround the city. However new reports indicate this number has grown to 20 or 30 thousand.* The troops are composed of both regular, police and militia units, backed by both by artillery and American and Iraqi air power, which is currently in the process of conducting a preliminary bombardment of ISIS posts inside the city. This will likely shift to close support once troops begin to enter the city.
Along with ISIS militants, there are estimated to be up to 90,000 civilians trapped inside the city. The humanitarian situation is dire, with widespread hunger and medical supplies running low. While the Iraqi government has warned civilians to leave the city, ISIS has been executing those who attempt to leave. Combined this with ISIS’s total disregard for human life and the realities of urban warfare, heavy civilian casualties are almost certain.
This battle will be a test to see whether the Iraqi army can actually fight a real battle. Their performance in Fallujah could have a major impact on the timetable and strategy for retaking Mosul.