The Iraqi army moves an armoured brigade to the Makhmour front near Mosul in this image taken from a Rudaw video.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—The Iraqi Prime Minister declared on Monday that the liberation of Fallujah is “imminent” and the Islamic State will be routed from Iraq by the end of the year. His optimism is seemingly contradicted, however, by the facts on the ground.
“We give our congratulations to our people in the holy month and we assure them that victory is at hand,” reads a statement from Haider al-Abadi’s office on the occasion of the first day of Ramadan. “The current year will see the elimination of the terrorist gangs and the liberation of Fallujah will be very soon.”
The operation to liberate Fallujah, launched two weeks ago with enthusiasm that Iraqi troops would reach the city centre in a matter of days, has, however, stalled, and dissension between the Iraqi army and Shiite militias participating in the offensive is on the rise with Shiite militia leaders accusing the army of supporting the battle for Mosul over Fallujah.
The Iraqi army recently moved an armoured brigade to the Makhmour front near Mosul. General Najim Al-Jibouri, operations commander of the Iraqi troops in the area, said the reinforcement will speed up the operation for Mosul.
“The good signs have arrived, thank God, in the form of the 15th and 9th division and their heroes. God willing, salvation will reach Nineveh governorate very soon. God willing, other forces are on the way too and there will be more frontlines open for the liberation of the city of Mosul, very soon, God willing.”
But the Shiite militia has criticized the reinforcement of troops in Mosul while they are struggling to retake Fallujah and more than 1,000 soldiers have been wounded so far.
“Unfortunately there is an absence of precise planning for the military operations,” said Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Organization, a Shiite militia group, speaking to Al-Sumaria TV on Sunday. “I believe that sending a large number of armoured vehicles and assets to Makhmour, under the pretext of the Mosul battle, is a betrayal of the battle for Fallujah.”
There is no timeline to retake Mosul though Kurdish and Iraqi forces have made gains in areas surrounding the city. But an offensive on the city itself is not likely to happen any time soon. The United States believes that the Iraqi army needs additional training before any major operation on Mosul can begin.
“A lull won’t be sexy, but it’s the hard and important work that needs to be done to generate combat power,” said Col. Steven Warren, former top American military spokesman in Iraq, to the New York Times.
In Fallujah, Iraqi army forces, joined by Shiite militias, have been working to retake smaller towns around the city. That stage of the operation is almost complete. With the retaking of the southern, mainly farmland, neighbourhood of Naymiyah on Sunday, forces have nearly encircled Fallujah and are poised to enter the city.
The campaign has, however, been slow moving as the Islamic State is fiercely defending the city, planting IEDs. Iraqi forces are also proceeding with caution in order to protect the 50,000 civilians who are believed to still reside in Fallujah.
Iraqi military commanders have not released official casualty figures but estimates are that the number of dead and wounded is high. A senior health official in Baghdad estimated that more than 1,100 have been injured and local officials report many funerals taking place.