May 25,2016 – JORDAN TIMES – MICHAEL JANSEN
Fallujah was a centre of the Iraqi uprising against British occupation in 1920, the first city in Iraq to revolt against the US occupation in 2003 and the first Iraqi city to submit to Daesh rule in 2014.
Consequently, Fallujah cannot be expected to capitulate without a fight to the Iraqi army backed up by Sunni tribal levies and Shiite militias in their belated campaign to restore Baghdad’s rule.
The November 2004 battle for Fallujah between US army and the resistance was the bloodiest encounter for US servicemen since the Vietnam war.
The US poured all sorts of chemical munitions into the city, killing hundreds of civilians as well as fighters, destroying most neighbourhoods and leaving a legacy of defects among newborns and cancers among children and adults.
Fallujah has serious reasons to hate the US and the exiled politicians who rode into Baghdad on the backs of US tanks.
Baghdad has put off the Fallujah campaign because the 2014 rebellion there was originally mounted by tribesmen alienated by the anti-Sunni policies adopted by then prime minister Nouri Al Maliki, a stalwart member of the Shiite fundamentalist Dawa Party that sought to overthrow secular Baathist Saddam Hussein who was reasonably popular in Fallujah.
A base for Al Qaeda — the parent of Daesh — during the early years of the US occupation, Fallujah is not ruled by Daesh elements from outside the city but by local loyalists.
Consequently, they are expected to fight for their city and homes.
Furthermore, even Fallujah residents who do not support Daesh are unlikely to back the government headed by Haidar Al Abadi. He has failed to reintegrate Sunnis, initiate political reforms, tackle rampant corruption, and deliver electricity, water and security to the country.
For both the government and Daesh, Fallujah is an iconic city because it stood up to Britain and the US. It is, therefore, a prize both sides want to possess.
For the government, victory in Fallujah would be both strategic and political, while Fallujah is Daesh’s first and last conquest in Anbar.
Recapturing Fallujah would be a strategic gain for Baghdad because it is the last city in Anbar province to be held by Daesh.
Anbar, Iraq’s largest and a Sunni majority province, borders Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia, making it a strategic asset for Baghdad.
Iraq’s neighbours will be relieved if Daesh is expelled.
The capital lies just 60km east of Fallujah and is prone to nearly daily Daesh suicide and vehicle bombings. Therefore, it is essential for the government to wrest Fallujah from Daesh and do its best to cleanse Daesh operatives and sleeper cells from the area around Baghdad and Anbar as a whole.
This is necessary if Iraq is to reopen the 1,000-kilometre highway from Amman to Baghdad; this possibility opened up last week when the Iraqi army took control — without much of a fight — of Rutba, which straddles the highway at a point 230km from Baghdad.
Reopening the highway became a realistic prospect this year when the Iraqi army and allied forces recaptured Ramadi, which had also fallen under Daesh control in 2014.
Success in Fallujah would also boost Abadi’s chances of remaining in power at a time of turbulence in Baghdad.
Angry Iraqis have twice breached the walls of the fortified Green Zone in the capital’s centre demanding an end to corruption and sectarian governance, and electricity, water and security.
For months now, Abadi has been unable to persuade parliament to agree to the appointment of technocrats to the Cabinet, with the aim of appointing figures who would tackle mismanagement and graft.
Legislators, enriched by corrupt patronage networks, have resisted his efforts, angering a majority of Iraqis who want a strong prime minister.
Some see the battle for Fallujah as a means for the Iraqi army and allied militias to postpone the inevitable campaign to retake Mosul, once Iraq’s second largest city, now the main Daesh stronghold in Iraq.
The army has been preparing for this major encounter for months, but senior officers, the government and US advisers still do not believe troops are ready to take on Daesh in Mosul.
Local ultra-conservatives and Sunnis angered by Maliki’s persecution and marginalisation welcomed the advent of Daesh in June 2014.
As in Fallujah, Daesh has a loyal base of support in Mosul. Its residents will watch carefully how Abadi, the army and the militias handle the siege and battle of Fallujah.
They cannot afford to inflict on that city the massive destruction wreaked on Ramadi — to which few former residents have returned.
So far, pro-government forces have adopted a cautious approach to Fallujah. As the Iraqi army shelled Fallujah, Daesh adopted an aggressive attitude towards civilians, threatening to kill anyone who tries to leave or surrender by raising a white flag on his house.
Daesh has adopted such a fierce line because, as its territorial holdings in Iraq have shrunk, the cult has executed fighters who attempt to flee and deployed loyal fighters in the streets of occupied cities to prevent civilians — used as human shields — from leaving.
Due to the onslaught on Daesh in both Iraq and Syria, cult leaders have said that even if it loses its “caliphate” based in Raqqa in Syria, it will not be defeated because of the pull of its ideology and the readiness of followers, many of whom are already scattered across the world, to fight and die to keep the cult’s cause alive.