Iraqi forces have retaken the last of the Islamic State strongholds in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, according to a senior Iraqi commander. Lieutenant General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, head of the counter-terrorism forces in the operation, said on Sunday that Iraqi troops had entered the Golan neighborhood of Fallujah and that the city was “fully liberated.”
In recent weeks and months, troops in both Iraq and Syria have made major gains against Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) fighters. U.S.-backed Kurdish troops are besieging the town of Manbij in the Syrian province of Aleppo and are close to taking control of it from the terror organization.
Earlier this year, ISIS lost Ramadi, which had been one of its strongholds in Iraq, just west of Baghdad. They are also on the retreat in the Sirte area of Libya.
So, what’s next?
Most analysts are predicting that the focus of the fight against ISIS will now center on attacking Mosul, a city held by the group in northern Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, has said explicitly that the way is clear for an offensive against the city. For over two years, the U.S. military has been overseeing plans to retake Mosul through a joint operation of the Iraqi army and Kurdish forces.
As a result of ISIS’ former control of Fallujah, and the fighting to retake the city, the situation in the area is “really catastrophic.” According to Shaker Mahmoud Hadi, an aid worker with the Iraqi Ministry of Migration and Displaced, currently available resources can “only provide for 30 percent of the displaced.”
Iraqi authorities and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees neglected to adequately plan for the post-operation fallout from Fallujah, creating a “complete disaster,” according to Jeremy Courtney, founder of the Preemptive Love Coalition, an aid group. “The government and the international organizations failed to do what they needed to do.”
If Mosul is liberated from the Islamic State, the situation does not portend well for the city’s residents — particularly the Christians, Yazidis and other minorities in the Mosul area, who fear their lot will worsen upon liberation.
Rita, an Iraqi Christian currently living in Lebanon (who asked that only her first name be used), is from a village in the Mosul area. She told us she believes that any operation to liberate Mosul from ISIS will be a lot harder than the fight to recapture Fallujah.
Rita was pessimistic about the future, saying that the Iraqi government is inefficient and incompetent and that, even if Mosul is recaptured, the situation won’t improve. She also said that “terror will continue and maybe even increase. Kurds and Christians will be targeted.”
Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, says, “There must be a careful review of a humanitarian disaster that accompanied the successful Fallujah military operation.”
Shea warned that a similar outcome in Mosul “could mean a massive loss of life among its Sunni civilians and have far-reaching consequences for the Christians and Yazidis, refugees from genocide, who used to live in Mosul’s surrounding towns and hope to return there once the provincial capital is liberated.”
In Shea’s opinion, “planning for the placement of escape corridors and camps for Mosul’s civilians must take into account the right to return of the genocide-designated minorities from Mosul’s neighboring towns and villages” and recommends that the U.S. military be prevented from participating in any Mosul offensive until a proper humanitarian plan has been put in place to deal with refugees and displaced persons.
According to Rita, the sad truth is that, no matter the outcome of any potential Mosul offensive, “life will never return to how it used to be.”