By Patrick Martin and Emily Anagnostos
Iraq's political situation remains tenuous as security forces escalate a major military operation in Fallujah. Iraqi Shi'a militias, tribal fighters, and the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) continued recapturing territory around Fallujah and began probing attacks into the city of Fallujah. However, there are numerous reports that the Popular Mobilization engaged in sectarian violence in Garma sub-district, reportedly destroying a mosque with explosives, looting homes and buildings, and kidnapping and executing civilians. While the reports could not be confirmed, this conduct is not anomalous for many of the Iraqi Shi'a militias operating in the area. Continued sectarian violence will have serious consequences on the stability of the Fallujah area, providing a support base for Sunni extremist groups and increasing the stabilization force requirements to hold the area. The visit of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) - Quds Force commander Qassim Suleimani to the area and the prominent role of Iran's proxy militias underscore the level of influence Iran has over the conduct of the operation; the Popular Mobilization appears content to let the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) with Coalition airstrikes recapture Fallujah city itself while Iraqi Shi'a militias establish themselves in the area and take the credit. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani likely influenced this decision, who insisted on May 25 that security forces respect civilian lives and not to be "extreme." Sistani's statement indicates increasing concern among the Iraqi Shi'a religious establishment over Iran's prominent role in the Fallujah operation.
ISIS also continued to launch spectacular attacks in Baghdad and the northern Belts in areas that have been repeatedly targeted in recent weeks. Despite increased levels of security forces in and around Baghdad, repeat attacks in areas such as Sadr City and al-Shaab suggest that ISIS retains access in Baghdad and underscores the failure of the security forces to address fundamental vulnerabilities in their security system. Similarly, an ISIS attack in Muqdadiyah comes amidst the largest deployment of forces to Diyala Province since 2008. The ISF, occupied with operations in Fallujah, does not have the reserves to increase its presence in these areas. The Fallujah operation in the short-term will drive an increase in ISIS attacks in retaliation for territorial loss; attacks in Baghdad will increase the burden on the security forces to preserve a standard of security with limited resources.