Monday, June 06, 2016

IRAQ - Fallujah

"The importance of wresting Fallujah back from the Islamic State" PBS NewsHour 5/30/2016


SUMMARY:  Iraq's offensive to retake the ancient city of Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, from Islamic State fighters was stepped up this weekend.  The Shiite-dominated government is under pressure to intensify its onslaught after a series of deadly ISIS bombings in Baghdad targeting Shia Muslims, including one today.  After Fallujah, all efforts turn to retaking Mosul in the north.  John Yang reports.

JOHN YANG (NewsHour):  The Iraqi government, with United States support, stepped up the pace to retake the city of Fallujah.  Iraqi military forces stormed the southern edge of the city, which has been controlled by ISIS since January 2014.

Iraqi tanks rolled down a main road leading into Fallujah, spearheading the all-out push to recapture the city.  The offensive to rout ISIS militants began last week, with government forces advancing slowly to try to minimize civilian casualties.  Government officials and aid groups estimate at least 50,000 people are trapped in the besieged city.

HADI AL-AMIRI, Commander, Popular Mobilization Forces (through interpreter):  Our advice to our troops is to treat families gently and kindly, and to respect them.  Our advice to fighters is to protect and guard public and private properties.

JOHN YANG:  Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad, is one of the Islamic State's last major strongholds in the region.  ISIS has controlled it since 2014.  Ramadi, farther to the west, was liberated at the end of last year.  It was a major victory for Iraqi forces, but at a great cost.  Much of Ramadi was leveled in the process.

Fallujah may now face a similar fate.  It's being bombarded by Iraqi forces on the ground and the U.S.-led coalition from the air.  The city is no stranger to destruction.  It was largely ruined back in 2004, after the U.S. invasion and subsequent battles with insurgents.

Maher Chmaytelli is the Reuters bureau chief in Baghdad.

MAHER CHMAYTELLI, Reuters:  The population of Fallujah is — is a conservative population, it's like an Islamic Sunni, conservative, has a Sunni conservative background.

Historically, let's say, since 2003, since Saddam was toppled, Fallujah was very much like a bastion of the insurgency against first the U.S. occupation of Iraq, and later off against the Shiite-led governments that were put in place after the removal of Saddam.

JOHN YANG:  Thousands have been displaced by the years of fighting, and some have been living in camps for two years.  They say conditions in the city are desperate.

BAAHJET IBRAHIM, Imam from Fallujah (through interpreter):  Those who are inside cannot leave and those who are outside cannot help them.  I mean, there is no food at all.  A sack of flour costs more than $800.  And you can't even get it.  Now my relatives who are still there have paid 683 U.S. dollars for 44 pounds of rice and flour.

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