Iraqi government forces have taken control of the southern edge of Fallujah, an Islamic State stronghold, since the 5th of this month. The news came only two weeks after an offensive was launched by the former to recapture this strategic city. According to Abdel Wahab al-Saadi, a Lt. Gen of the Iraqi special forces, his troops have already conquered Naymiyah, the predominantly agricultural neighborhood belonging to the southern part of the city.
The Shia coalition, Popular Mobilization Forces have been trying to bolster the Iraqi government efforts. Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the coalition’s deputy leader, said that troops belonging to the coalition have reached Fallujah’s gates. The only part of the city yet to be conquered was the Euphrates’ western bank. Many of the city’s inhabitants are fleeing by crossing the river, which is approximately 300 meters wide at its crossing point. The total population of the city is estimated to be 50,000. The city now has limited access to healthcare, food and water. Haider al-Abadi, the Prime Minister of Iraq, has said that the offensive was purposefully slowed so that the civilians can be protected.
The Popular Mobilization Forces’ personnel are composed primarily of Shias and they have restricted their operation to the outskirts of Fallujah. Breaching operations are being conducted by elite federal forces. However, according to Mohandis, this status may change if the fight drags on. He said that the Popular Mobilization Forces and the Iraqi Government forces are partners in the struggle against Islamic State.
Easier said than done
Government special forces have already started their offensive towards the center of the city. They have faced tough resistance as the city was under Islamic State control for a couple of years, and it was possible for militants to erect complex defenses. The operation to retake Fallujah has coincided with two offensives taken against IS strongholds located in the neighboring state of Syria. The Syrian Kurdish forces are advancing on the IS held town of Manbij, a place controlling supply routes between Raqqa and the Turkish border. Raqqa is the de-facto capital of Islamic State. Syrian Government troops have made an advance from the country’s southern regions.
Al-Saadi, who was also the commander of the cities of Ramadi and Tikrit, stated that the coalition air power has saved a number of lives. Yet ISIS counter-attacks, often involving car bombs have caused multiple vehicles to be destroyed and progress continuously being slowed down.