Iraqi forces, militias launch operation to recapture Fallujah

Fallujah

A Badr Organization rocket that was prepped near the outskirts of Fallujah.

Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), backed by tribal fighters and Iranian-backed militias, have officially begun the operation to dislodge the Islamic State from the city of Fallujah in Anbar province. Fallujah is the last major city held by the Islamic State in the province.

Fallujah, which is just 30 miles from Iraq’s capital of Baghdad, was the first major Iraqi city to fall to the Islamic State in January 2014 – while it was still part of al Qaeda’s network.

On May 22, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al Abadi announced the commencement of operations to recapture the important city, after days of military buildup near the outskirts. According to Colonel Steve Warren, the spokesman of the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve, “US-led coalition aircraft have carried out seven airstrikes in and around Fallujah over the past week.”

However, this comes after US military commanders have insisted that “extremist elements” of the Shia militias have not participated in operations where the US military is providing support. The US has provided air support, weapons and military aid to Iraqi forces during offensives where Shia militias – such assuch Baiji, Tikrit, Amerli, and Jurf al Shakr have played an important role – but remain hostile to the United States and have threatened to attack US personnel.

Despite this claim, several Iranian-backed Shia militias (as well as one Christian militia) have showcased their build-up for the operation in recent days. This includes the US-designated terrorist group Kata’ib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades), as well as groups led by designated terrorists such as Asaib al Haq, Harakat Nujaba, Kata’ib Imam Ali, and Kata’ib Sayyid al Shuhada. Other Iranian-backed groups are also taking part in the operation.

Just days earlier, Harakat al Nujaba has said it is clearing a road in eastern Anbar province in preparation for the offensive to retake Fallujah from the Islamic State. The leader of Harakat Nujaba, Akram al Kabi – a US-designated terrorist – said his “special forces” are ready to assist Iraqi forces to recapture the city. According to Kabi, Harakat al Nujaba also played a key roles in clearing the Samarra-Fallujah line of communication, which is likely the Thar Thar region between the two cities. Moqtada al Sadr’s Peace Brigades have also been active in this area. [See LWJ report, Iran-backed militia prepares ‘special forces’ for Fallujah offensive.]

These militias operate under the aegis of the Popular Mobilization Units, or PMU, which itself is led by Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, a former commander in the Badr Organization who was listed by the US government as a specially designated global terrorist in July 2009. The US government described Muhandis, whose real name is Jamal Jaafar Mohammed, as “an advisor to Qassem Soleimani,” the commander of the Qods Force, which is the external operations wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Muhandis also retains the leadership position of the Hezbollah Brigades.

The Islamic State has suffered major setbacks in Anbar over the past several months, losing Ramadi, the provincial capital as well as the nearby town of Hit and the remote town of Rutbah. The Islamic State still controls all of the towns west of Anah along the Euphrates River in addition to contiguous territory across the border in Syria. Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and several other cities and towns also remain under the Islamic State’s control.

Videos of several Iranian-backed militias preparing for the operation to retake Fallujah:

Kata’ib Hezbollah near Fallujah:

Kata’ib Imam Ali’s Abu Azrael discussing the buildup near Fallujah:

Harakat al Nujaba sending troops to Fallujah:

Badr Organization’s rockets near Fallujah:

Kata’ib Babylon (Christian militia) videos showing its buildup:

Saraya al Jihad:

Kata’ib Sayyid al Shuhada preparing for the Fallujah operation: 

Asaib al Haq shelling Fallujah before the beginning of the operation:

Asaib al Haq convoy moving towards Fallujah:

Asaib al Haq and other militias fighting in the outskirts of Fallujah:

Kata’ib Jund al Imam:

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is an intern at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributor to The Long War Journal.

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1 Comment

  • K Maag says:

    Maybe things move a little faster for a while; but
    “sometimes our actions are questions, not answers” (J. Le Carre) …

    The IRGC et al seem at present well led and highly motivated, but
    one wonders whether the imam who succeeds Khamenei would also be a holocaust denier…

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