Saturday, June 04, 2016

The Offensive Stalls

The Fallujah offensive to liberate the city from ISIL has stalled. But why?

The Iraqis are holding off their forces:

"Falluja is a tough nut to crack," [Iraqi Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari] told Reuters in an interview on Thursday evening. "Daesh are holding the population as hostages, not allowing them to escape, and they are putting up a tough fight there," he added, referring to the militant group by one of its Arabic acronyms. ...

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Wednesday the army had slowed the pace of its offensive because of fears for the safety of tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the city with limited access to water, food and healthcare. ...

"In Falluja, Daesh has die-hard fighters defending a city they consider as a symbol for Jihad," said analyst and former army general Jasim al-Bahadili.

Iraq needs to take Fallujah to protect Baghdad from terror bombings dispatched from Fallujah and the government is under pressure to do so.

We have one explanation saying the offensive is stalled because of a government wary of inflicting casualties on the Sunni Arabs trapped by ISIL in Fallujah.

Engineering a new "awakening" to get Sunni Arabs to reject ISIL and side with the Shia-dominated government is essential to making the job after defeating ISIL easier rather than facing a nationalist (well, "sectarian" more accurately) Sunni Arab insurgency.

And another explanation has it that the defenders are stopping the offensive because the ISIL jihadis are ready to fight to the death.

I ask whether the latter is the real explanation because since ISIL lost Ramadi, I question whether ISIL has really managed to put 1-2,000 die-hard defenders in Fallujah when there seems to be a lack of die-hard defenders in the ISIL ranks since then.

A pause in the offensive is a problem.

Iraq needs to clear Fallujah to protect Baghdad and reduce the need to divert forces from the Mosul offensive to static defensive missions in the capital.

And Iraq needs to find a way to keep the pro-Iran Shia militias out of Fallujah once it is taken because they might slaughter Sunni Arabs (because a running Sunni male will be an ISIL fighter and a Sunni male standing still will be a well-disciplined ISIL fighter).

If the Iraqis can sideline the Shia militias (after using them to absorb casualties that the regulars and Counter-Terrorism Force might endure to kill ISIL jihadis) before entering the city center, American firepower will help reduce Iraqi military casualties while limiting civilian deaths due to the human shield tactics (and war crime, remember).

Hopefully the offensive won't be stalled for long. Then we'll see how hard the jihadis die this time.

UPDATE: Boot has a point that defeating ISIL in Fallujah could benefit Iran, but what is the point practically speaking?

The Obama administration and the American military will tout this as a big victory for the United States, the government of Iraq, and the anti-ISIS cause. In fact, it will be more of a victory for Iran than for anyone else, because of the prominent role played by Iranian militias in this offensive.

I lament the fact that our withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 has given Iran an opportunity to increase their influence in Iraq.

And I worry that the pro-Iran militias could indeed become a new Hezbollah that cripples the national government and gives Iran a tool to control Iraq.

But does that mean we let ISIL win?

Did we refuse to defeat Nazi Germany because Soviet Russia exploited that defeat to move into central Europe and spread communist regimes in their wake?

One problem at a time, eh? ISIL is the problem in Iraq right now.

When we defeat ISIL, Iran will be the main problem in Iraq then. Which we should deal with. Hopefully our government won't be so misguided to believe Iran is our partner and friend.

Perhaps our diplomacy can use the fact that Arab Iraqi Shias distrust Persian Shias despite the common religion. We would have a clear majority of Iraqis opposing Iran if we add in Sunni Arabs and Sunni Kurds--as long as those Iraqis have confidence that America will remain in Iraq this time to help these Iraqis deal with the Iranian threat.

So after we re-win the Iraq War with our Iraq War 2.0, let's try winning the peace with Post-War 2.0, okay?