Issues Facing U.S.-Led Coalition Forces As They Battle Islamic State Over Fallujah

The Associated Press via the Las Vegas Review-Journal is reporting that the self-proclaimed Islamic State is staging an aggressive counter attack in the Southern edge of Fallujah using civilians as human shields, against coalition forces who are trying to force them out of the city.

Since reports that a U.S.-led coalition would take back Fallujah began over a week ago, there has been growing concern about the condition of the city’s civilians held by the terrorist group.

The city is estimated to hold 50,000 people, and as of the release of the Associated Press report, 554 families have apparently escaped from surrounding areas, but one family was able to escape from Fallujah on Monday.

Human rights groups were reporting that civilians were dying of starvation before forces started fighting, eating old rice and little else and drinking polluted water.

Over the last week, since the battle began, buildings left in ruins by the fighting have reportedly collapsed on people, and the Islamic State has killed those who have tried to escape and those who refuse to fight for them.

The AP report says that thus far, the group has sent six cars lined with explosives in their counter attacks, which failed to reach their destinations, and U.S.-led forces had encountered land mines as they were trying to go into the city.

In another report by PBS NewsHour last week, Missy Ryan from The Washington Post explains that a Hezbollah-affiliated group the United States considers a terrorist is one of the Iraqi government-sanctioned Shitte militia groups working with the coalition which is made up of local and Iraqi state police forces, the Iraqi army, and Sunni tribal groups to go into the city.

The New York Times (NYT) reported that involvement of some of these groups is a concern to the U.S. because while American special forces are on the front lines of taking Raqqa from ISIS in another fight across the border in Syria, Iran seems to be more involved in running the show in Iraq.

Over the past month, a peaceful uprising of citizens calling for government reforms has put more pressure on the Iraqi leadership on one side, while the Islamic State has increased attacks on the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on the other side.

The article also says that while Iran is also interested in getting rid of the terrorist group which has embedded itself in both Iraq and Syria, their involvement could stoke the flames of sectarianism and make matters worse.

According to the same source, examples of this kind of behavior are already being exhibited.

Militiamen have plastered artillery shells with the name of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a Shiite cleric close to Iran whose execution this year by Saudi Arabia — a Sunni power — could deepen the region’s sectarian divide before firing them at the terrorist group fighters in Fallujah.

Shiite militia fighter near Fallujah A fighter with Badr Brigades an armed Shiite group under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Forces loads his rifle as Iraqi security forces and allied Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces and Sunni tribal fighters, take combat positions outside Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, May 23, 2016. Iraqi government forces on Monday pushed Islamic State militants out of some agricultural areas outside Fallujah as they launched a military offensive to recapture the city from the extremists, officials said. [Image by Rwa Faisal/AP Photo]Shiite clerics are also sending the message that Fallujah is full of terrorists and sympathizers and say that there are no innocent Sunni civilians there at all.

The New York Times article also says that there is footage circulating of Shiite militia leaders with their fighters, marching against the Sunni, further driving that message.

“There are no patriots, no real religious people in Falluja. It’s our chance to clear Iraq by eradicating the cancer of Falluja.”

But promises have been made to not include these militias, where they would stand to the side as they had before in other campaigns, allowing the U.S. to play a larger role in this fight.

“If the militias do hold back as promised, then the United States is likely step up the tempo of the air campaign, as it did in the battle last year for Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province. In that fight, Iran’s militias stayed on the sidelines.”

The AP report has also reported that those militia forces are not involved in this fight.

People displaced from Fallujah Internally displaced civilians from Fallujah flee their homes during the fight between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State group during a military operation to regain control of the City, of outside Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, May 26, 2016. The Islamic State group is preventing people from fleeing Fallujah amid a military operation to recapture the city west of Baghdad, a local Iraqi official and aid groups said on Wednesday. [Image by Unknown/AP Photo]Humanitarian groups are demanding that coalition forces open up a way for civilians to be able to flee the city, but thus far, the families and people they have rescued or have escaped are being screened and will reportedly be held for up to a week before they’re released.

[Image by unknown/AP Photo]