The Iraqi army’s continuing assault on the city of Fallujah, which has been under Daesh control since January 2014, has led to growing concern over the fate of the city’s civilians. Fallujah has been bombed regularly by the Iraqi army for the past two years but now the government wants to regain control of the city.
Dozens of people have been killed and injured in Fallujah since last Monday and there are at least 50,000 people still trapped there. The Iraqi army has ordered them to leave the city, but Daesh are preventing them from doing so.
However, it is not only the official Iraqi army which is taking part in the attack on Fallujah, a mostly Sunni city. The Popular Mobilisation Forces, which are mostly Shia, are also involved in the assault. They have previously committed revenge killings and sectarian cleansing. It has also been reported that Iranian forces are engaged in the assault. On the other hand Daesh’s human rights abuses are well known and there are reports that it has deployed execution squads in the city in order to ensure that the population stays where it is.
There are now fears of a massacre being committed in the city and the attack has exacerbated an already dangerous political and sectarian divide in the Arab World. Opinion on Twitter has been deeply polarised. A video purporting to show Aws al-Khafaji, a senior commander of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, telling his fellow fighters that there was “not one single patriotic or religious person” in Fallujah and calling on them to take “our opportunity to cleanse Iraq by eradicating the tumour that is Fallujah” has been shared on YouTube and Facebook. The Arabic hashtag #Fallujah has been used over 100,000 times, along with mutually antagonistic hashtags such as #Fallujah_is_being_slaughtered_and_eradicated and #Fallujah_is_being_liberated.
Twitter user Sddan supporting the Iraqi government’s operation, wrote:
“Today all Iraqis – Sunni and Shia, Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Christians, Yazidis and all sects are agreed that #Fallujah is being liberated. So bless us with your silence.”
Her words came in response to negative coverage of the assault. She shared a video purportedly showing Iraqi troops helping women and children evacuate the city.
Taking a similar view, Wesam Al Darraji tweeted using another acronym for Daesh:
“Fans of ISIS reject the #Fallujah liberation operation just because they love #ISIS terrorism, that’s all”.
A pro-Popular Mobilisation Forces Twitter user calling herself Bint Baghdad Ghair wrote the below, along with a picture purporting to show Sunni and Shia Popular Mobilisation Forces praying together.
“Our Mobilisation is Iraqi, from all sects, proudly #Fallujah_ is_ being_ liberated,”
Pro-government Iraqi MP Hanan Al-Fatlawi took a sarcastic view, emphasising that Daesh fighters now had to disguise themselves at any cost:
“There’s now a shaving cream crisis in Fallujah because all the Daesh fighters are trying to get some…#Fallujah_is_being_liberated.”
However, Yaqub Al-Rissi tweeted:
“The barbaric Popular Mobilization Forces are engaging in a rotten sectarianism against the people of #Fallujah under the pretext of fighting terrorism”
Iraqi journalist Iyad Al-Dulaimi wrote:
“Those being killed in #Fallujah now are its civilian inhabitants who could not escape. They have seen how their government deals with those who left before and have been prevented by Daesh from leaving.”
Saudi religious scholar Saad Al-Breik posted this before a graphic picture of a child whose face had been badly burnt in the bombings.
“They are killing Sunnis who are free in #Fallujah on the pretext of fighting Daesh. Is this child Daesh?”
Former Kuwaiti MP Osama Al-Munawer said:
“What the sectarian militias are doing in Fallujah is the same as what they did in Diyala and in Houla before. If they take any Muslim city the same massacres will happen,”
In reference to the expulsion of Sunnis from the Diyala province of Iraq in 2015 and a massacre in the Syrian town of Houla in 2012.