On Sunday, a senior Iraqi army functionary announced that Iraqi forces have successfully recovered Fallujah city from the ISIS. The recovery of the city is expected to be a major confidence boost to the beleaguered Iraqi forces.
Fallujah was the first Iraqi city to fall to the ISIS in 2014. The fall of the city was catastrophic for the fledgling Iraqi government and armed forces because the city is just 1 and a half hours away from Baghdad, the capital of Iraq. The success also means that now the coalition forces can concentrate on Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq which is still under ISIS control. But it not going to be easy.
Thousands of people have fled Fallujah over the last 5 weeks
The Iraq campaign has progressed in fits and starts, besieged by factionalism and discontent in the ranks. Almost 85,000 people have fled Fallujah since the Iraqi army began its push into the city almost 5 weeks back. Many of these people are staying in overcrowded refugee camps in the Anbar desert.
Fallujah was once a Shia stronghold and the Shias and Sunnis don't get on well together. So the matter of their coming back to the city is complicated by the fact that many Shiite militia groups were part of the city's recapture. When the ISIS overran the city in 2014, the city's Sunni residents welcomed them. Now that the ISIS his banished from the city, the refugees fear that they won't be treated too kindly by the Shia forces, if they come back.
The Norwegian Refugee Council has warned that the refugees are running out of options. Soon temperatures will reach 40degrees in the desert. Without proper food, water, shelter and medicines, the refugee and aid agencies fear the worst.
Long road to freedom for Iraqi forces
Air strikes are still going in the area so it is too soon to say when the city's residents will go back to Fallujah. The escaping ISIS fighters have most probably left IEDs and makeshift bombs. Unless they are cleared, it is risky to go back. It happened when the Iraqi forces liberated Ramadi in February this year, More than a 100 people fell prey to hidden bombs when they tried to reclaim their old life in Ramadi.
Moreover, it is too early to celebrate. The ISIS still holds significant territory in Iraq's West and North, though their resources have been curtailed drastically. The battle for Mosul is expected to begin shortly but before that the Iraqi forces have to get their act together. More than 3.3 Iraqis have been internally displaced since the ISIS overran the country. More than 40% of these people come from Anbar province.