by Emily Anagnostos and the ISW Iraq Team
The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Popular Mobilization completed the encirclement of Fallujah on June 5 after retaking Saqlawiyah on Fallujah’s western axis. The joint forces had recaptured Albu Shajal, west of Fallujah, on June 1, and consolidated terrain south of Fallujah around the Tuffah Bridge, likely as condition setting to retake the Fallujah Dam. The ISF, without Popular Mobilization forces, began operations into Fallujah city on June 6, when they surrounded the southern neighborhoods of Jubeil and Hayy al-Shuhada. The ISF, spearheaded by efforts from the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), secured the first zone of Hayy al-Shuhada on June 8 and stormed the second zone on June 9 where efforts are ongoing. ISIS likely no longer has control over al-Zawiyah, to the south of Fallujah, given the establishment of a humanitarian corridor through the area.
The Popular Mobilization, however, may no longer be satisfied with simply securing Fallujah’s environs and has begun to push for militia participation in Fallujah’s city limits. Badr Organization leader Hadi al-Amiri announced on June 4 a ten-day deadline for residents to leave Fallujah, citing civilian presence as the biggest obstacle to retake the city. The U.N. nearly doubled the estimate of civilians in Fallujah from 50,000 to 90,000 on June 8. The deadline is set to expire on June 14, the two year anniversary of the Popular Mobilization’s founding. Popular Mobilization deputy chairman Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis amended Amiri’s statement on June 5 saying that militias would enter the city “if needed” and entrusted the city to the ISF’s command. Popular Mobilization spokesman Karim al-Nouri similarly stated that entering Fallujah was not the Popular Mobilization’s “duty” and that they would await Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s decision before participating. However, the Popular Mobilization will continue to lobby for permission to enter Fallujah, as Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) leader Ammar al-Hakim stated on June 6 that the lack of participation of militias in Fallujah was “unrealistic and illogical.” Sunni officials continue to push back against the possibility of militia participation in Fallujah, and they have demanded that militias withdraw from Fallujah amidst ongoing reports of human rights violations against Fallujah residents fleeing the city. The Popular Mobilization has maintained that they do not engage in “systemic” abuse in the area, however claims of Shi’a militias “kidnapping, killing, and harassing” Sunni civilians, most recently in Saqlawiyah following its recapture, continue to surface. The Iraqi Government cannot guarantee its long-term stability as long as Sunni populations do not feel protected or represented by their government and are possibly more inclined to welcome extremist ideology.