While Iraqi officials continue to talk up their offensive against Fallujah as a quick and easy battle that will “liberate” the major city in a matter of days, US officials are conceding that this is shaping up to be a very difficult, and likely bloody, campaign.
Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland warned Iraq is going to face a “long, tough” fight in the city, which has been under ISIS control since January of 2014, noting that the city includes many of Iraq’s “early adopters” to the ISIS cause.
Massive public protests against the Maliki government were held in the Fallujah in the weeks leading up to ISIS taking the city, with the almost exclusively Sunni population blasting the Shi’ite government for reneging on power sharing deals and undercutting top Sunni Arab politicians. The government had virtually withdrawn from the city before it fell at all.
With sectarianism still a huge problem in Iraq, Lt. Gen. MacFarland notes that the invading force could face a “fairly large percentage of a fairly large city that’s hostile to us.” This was less true in places like Ramadi, which were only under ISIS control a few months before the offensive.
Even in previous battles, however, with relatively passive populations, the “liberation” phase of offensives against Sunni Arab territory has been followed by widespread looting and violent purges by Shi’ite militias backing the military, which only adds to the sense among locals that letting the city fall to the government is risky, and that ISIS retaining control, if far from ideal, is the safer choice.