Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s decision to engage the Islamic State group in Fallujah is about more than defeating the terrorist network. It’s about more than establishing safety in Baghdad, and it’s even about more than securing his own political future.
His abrupt departure from America’s script for the war against the Islamic State group, which prioritizes above all else the liberation of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, shows the strength of the other major international influence in Iraq, and its sway on Baghdad.
Iran has reportedly been pressuring Abadi for weeks, if not months, to prioritize Fallujah. But now domestic tensions in Baghdad and disunity among the world powers that have involved themselves in the conflict have cleared the way for the Islamic republic to have more potency than the U.S., Russia, Turkey or any other world power involved in the conflict.
“Tehran has more influence on Abadi’s focus, whether on Fallujah or anywhere else, than Moscow, Washington and Ankara combined,” says a former U.S. combat commander with extensive experience working with Iraq’s senior leaders. “The political disarray in Baghdad, the strangely wandering American political strategy, and the opaque rationale for what American forces we will commit to what tasks in the worst form of gradual escalation, combine to leave decisions open to a host of inputs from military and civilian policy makers from Baghdad to Tehran, before even considering the enemy’s vote.”
It became immediately clear this week the fight would not mirror previous liberations of some Iraqi towns where disenfranchised Islamic State group presence almost immediately fled. As Pentagon officials point out, Fallujah serves as the extremist network’s last haven in Iraq’s massive Anbar province, and they won’t withdraw easily.
Iraqi forces began capturing villages on the outskirts of Fallujah soon after the fighting began on Monday but have since been met with fierce resistance from the extremist group’s fighters.
“They intend to put up a fight for it, and we definitely have seen intense fighting for those two days,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said Tuesday.
After acknowledging before the effort began that Fallujah offers no tactical benefit in recapturing Mosul, U.S. officials have since publicly backed the new campaign and minimized inconsistencies with the larger strategy. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said last week “we are obviously supportive of this operation” and that the U.S. was very much aware of Iraq’s intentions to shift toward Fallujah, despite claims to the contrary from defense officials who spoke to U.S. News.
Source: US News & World Report