Citing his concern that a full-scale military assault on the city of Fallujah would lead to a large number of civilian bystanders being caught in the crossfire, Iraqi Prime Minister Hayder Abadi has announced that the assault is being suspended for the time being.
Iraqi officials had previously predicted the battle would be quick and easy, but facing heavy resistance, they are now warning the battle would be particularly bloody. With some 50,000 civilians trapped within, overwhelmingly Sunni Arabs, Abadi clearly did not want to expose himself to responsibility for a high civilian death toll.
Still, Abadi claimed “victory is within reach,” and while he didn’t make it clear what the plans are now, the Iraqi forces surrounding the city aren’t going anywhere. That could spark another concern, as reports within the city have suggested growing shortages as troops surrounded it on all fronts.
Fallujah’s civilians are in a bad way no matter what happens at this point, it seems, facing either death from starvation during the siege, death during a bloody military offensive and urban combat, or failing that purges by the Shi’ite militias described as “dirty brigades” which have carried out revenge attacks on Sunnis in “liberated” areas elsewhere, and which are front-line in Fallujah’s offensive.
Fallujah has been under ISIS control for two and a half years now, the longest of any city in Iraq, and is heavily defended. The city is also very close to Baghdad, however, and since the “liberation” and destruction of neighboring Ramadi, is far from any other ISIS territory, making it far out of supply.
Though that makes it more likely to fall, its remoteness from other ISIS territory has made it harder for civilians to flee, as Sunnis fleeing ISIS cities are largely unwelcome in the Shi’ite cities to the east, and with Ramadi gone there is no nearby neighbor to the west.