There has been an influx of commentary on the operation to liberate Fallujah that began on May 22, with many questioning the motives behind the Government of Iraq’s (GoI) decision to launch this operation. Some went further by outright accusing the GoI of sectarian revenge for trying to drive the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) out of Fallujah. Why go against the stated US preference and liberate Fallujah before Mosul? Fallujah may only be the second largest Iraqi city ISIL controls, however it is the closest major presence ISIL has to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
Fallujah is about 50 km from Baghdad and is a crucial destination on multiple highways between Baghdad and western Iraq all the way into neighbouring Jordan. In fact, retired Brigadier-General Ismael al-Sodani claims Fallujah should have been liberated before Tikrit due to its strategic positioning. It is Iraq’s sovereign right to retake any Iraqi territory from a foreign terrorist organization and Fallujah’s proximity to the capital is enough motivation to liberate it as soon as possible.
There is no need for long pieces by analysts questioning why the GoI is deciding to liberate Fallujah now. Fallujah was the first Iraqi city to fall to ISIL militants in January of 2014. The citizens that have not been able to flee have suffered the longest at the hands of ISIL. Reports coming out of Fallujah on the situation of residents reveal unbearable living conditions. If strategic military motivations to liberate Fallujah first were not enough, then humanitarian considerations alone suffice. All citizens occupied under ISIL are suffering but due to the fact that ISIL are under siege by Iraqi forces, their grip over citizens has tightened, forcing greater urgency for the GoI to free its people.
After the collapse of the Iraqi Army in June of 2014, the rebuilding of the Army is now at the stage that it is able to liberate Fallujah after victories in Ramadi and towns across all of Anbar under their belt. Fallujah is being liberated now because the GoI is able to do so. The GoI has clarified its military plans and it does not have to answer for its decisions regarding which Iraqi forces will take part in the liberation of Fallujah. Some analysts speak of concerns that the United States may have of Iranian involvement in the fight against ISIL but there is nothing the US government is unaware of in Iraq.
If there is such an outcry for the safety of Fallujah’s citizens now, where was the concern from the Western commentators when the GoI warned its allies of ISIL militants crossing Iraq’s borders and making their way through Anbar’s desert in 2013? If Iraq needed support from elsewhere, who are the ones that failed to support them when asked to question their tactics in liberating its own land? If liberating Fallujah involves the support from their neighbour Iran in addition to the United States and the global coalition based on the GoI’s decision, then the case is closed. If there is still controversy about Iran’s involvement, bear in mind that Iran’s presence in Iraq is partly the result of American inaction during the cry for help from Baghdad in 2013 and 2014.
Despite the constant disappointment from the Americans, the GoI continues to choose the United States as its partner of choice. Having said that, it makes no sense for Iraq not have strong relations with both the United States and the neighbour it shares its longest border with. Anyone in the position of Iraq would want healthy bilateral ties with both Iran and the United States. As for the argument about the rest of Iraq’s neighbours, it has been Iraq post-2003 that has initiated restoring broken ties with its Gulf neighbours Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Continuing to look at the situation from the point of view of the GoI, choosing to liberate Fallujah before Mosul makes the most strategic sense. No state in the world would sit comfortably with a foreign terrorist occupied city 50 km from its capital. Not only does it enhance Baghdad’s security, but it also corners ISIL into north-western Iraq, leaving Mosul to be the final stage of eliminating ISIL from Iraq. The United States may have wanted to begin the operation to liberate Mosul before the end of President Obama’s term in office, however the decision lies with the Commander in Chief of Iraq, PM al-Abadi. While it may seem easy for eager Western analysts to claim every decision the GoI makes that does not fall in line with the United States is a decision orchestrated by Iran. That is only ignorance and lack of respect towards the sovereignty of Iraq on the part of analysts.
The motivation to liberate Fallujah is simple and the reason to do it now is logical. If that is not enough to convince Western analysts reading through sectarian spectacles, maybe the results of Fallujah’s liberation will speak for themselves like they have done earlier in Tikrit and Ramadi. It is important to warn that claims of destruction and retribution are not factual based on the relatively calm results from the liberation of Tikrit and Ramadi. Reports reveal that over 95% of the population of Tikrit has returned home and that was an operation that heavily involved the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs). As for Ramadi where the PMUs played a more supportive role, the local population continues to return in large waves and doing so peacefully.
One of the main reasons for the peaceful return of citizens is the fact that the army and the PMUs do not have the numbers to be keeping men behind. They liberate and move on to the next front. The security is handed over to local authorities which in all liberated areas have been working closely with the Prime Minister before and after liberation. This has been an important strategy for al-Abadi, who needs to ensure state control is returned but to also allow provincial authority to return to the local citizens after being disenfranchised by ISIL. Returning authority back to locals after liberation has been difficult in areas where the Kurdistan Regional Government oversteps its regional borders, but with regular provinces such as Salahudin and Anbar, the political cooperation between provincial government and federal government in Baghdad has been healthy. While situated in Anbar province, administering Fallujah should not be difficult due to the fact Anbar’s governor, Sohaib al-Rawi, has returned to governing from Ramadi for quite some time and has been administering post-ISIL Anbar closely with the prime minister.
It is worth remembering that the United States Marine Corps (USMC), a branch of the world’s strongest and most efficient army, destroyed 70% of Fallujah when they attempted to liberate it over a decade ago. Citizens recounting the aftermath of Fallujah after the USMC’s operation to liberate the city state no buildings were left intact. The birth defects of children are still seen to this day from the white phosphorus dropped on the people of Fallujah. It is understandable that in war a lot is lost in the efforts to defeat the enemy but that is where the same level of expectation needs to be placed on the Iraqi forces. Hypocrisy from journalists and analysts in assessing the damages of post-ISIL areas in comparison to the USMC is unacceptable. There is reporting the damages and then there is hypocritical criticism of the damages taken by the liberation of ISIL-occupied Iraq.
For the most part, analysis on Fallujah has been poor and the hypocrisy on the reporting has been appalling. There is never an excuse for poor journalism and poor analysis provides no source of constructive criticism whatsoever. Western analysts seem to forget Iraq is an ally of the United States and fighting ISIL on behalf of the world. It may not like the supporting role Iran plays but that is neither their right to decide or an excuse for analysis that vilifies Iraq.