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Fallujah: Victory or humiliation?

Despite many premature declarations of victory, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi held aloft the Green Zone-era Iraqi flag in Fallujah last Sunday. He immediately began talking about the next stop being Mosul, and that Daesh would soon be defeated and wiped off the board. However, one might say that he is suffering from delusions of grandeur if he thinks that Daesh is close to being truly defeated.

In fact, there is little cause for celebration in Fallujah. Footage shows that the City of Mosques, as it is sometimes known, is little more than a mass of rubble. In scenes that do not look so different from a Hollywood film set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Fallujah is eerily empty with its streets mainly occupied by roving bands of sectarian Shia militias of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) and the occasional patrol of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).

Indeed, much of Fallujah's former inhabitants are now stuck in the searing heat of the desert in sparsely supplied refugee camps. Aid agencies have long complained about a crippling dearth of supplies, and one has to wonder how these Iraqi citizens are surviving in the summer heat during Ramadan. However, their suffering brings to mind and reminds us of the fact that they have been under siege by their own government since early 2014, with harrowing images being released a couple of months ago showing the deadly results of this campaign of starvation.

The Iraqi government shamelessly claims to have come to Fallujah as liberators, yet they have utterly devastated and destroyed the city, just as they did in Ramadi and Tikrit, and allowed the people to be the victims of the most savage and brutal torture. Survivors recount being forced to drink their own urine, or even the blood of their fellow prisoners who were slaughtered in front of them by Iran-backed sectarian militiamen who likely viewed the people of Fallujah as Daesh sympathisers.

Let us not also forget how the PMF, the "great liberators" of Iraq from Daesh terrorism, went to Saqlawiya like the Mongol horde of Hulagu Khan and murdered 49 civilians with a further 643 reported missing by the Governor of Anbar, Sohaib Al-Rawi, their fates unknown to this day. With the Iraqi government's long complicity in the activities of Iran's death squad proxies, it would not be much of a stretch to believe that they suffered a fate worse than death.

The above is but one example of hundreds of thousands of atrocities and war crimes committed in the name of freedom from Daesh, including grim footage from Tikrit a while ago where Shia militias are skinning the bodies of two Sunnis on top of a military vehicle, as well as more recent images of militiamen standing gleefully over the body of a young girl, killed execution style with her hands tied behind her back and a gunshot wound to the head. In the video, the sectarian Shia fighters can be heard insulting her crudely as they take photographs of her body on their mobile phones, documenting their own involvement in crimes against humanity and war crimes against a civilian population.

However, and unlike killing and torturing bound and tied defenceless civilians, the ISF and its allied Shia terrorist organisations suffered humiliatingly in combat against an armed opponent. Despite repeated declarations of victory, the battle for Fallujah took well over a month, lasting from 22 May until 26 June. According to US estimates, the number of Daesh fighters was anywhere between 600-1,000 men. Meanwhile, the ISF enjoyed a numerical advantage of 35,000 men supported by tens of thousands of PMF fighters, not to mention federal police units and others. In total, there could have been anything between 60,000-80,000 government aligned fighters, all protected by US airpower.

Even so, Iraq consistently failed to take Fallujah. In fact, on the day victory was finally declared (for the final time), Iraqi military sources confirmed that Daesh had withdrawn from Fallujah suddenly and that they had met little resistance. In other words, Daesh was not decisively defeated and to make matters even more humiliating, they managed to withdraw from a small city that was entirely surrounded and besieged. How did the Daesh terrorists manage to slip away from Iran's proxies, also terrorists, so easily? Why is there so little footage of dead Daesh fighters? We know the ISF and allied militias routinely film civilians they slay, so why not Daesh fighters?

This lack of evidence is despite the fact that the Iraqi authorities claim they killed a massive 2,500 Daesh terrorists whilst only suffering 394 deaths in the ISF, with this figure excluding PMF and other casualties. However, that cannot be true, and it would not be the first time the Green Zone regime has lied. As previously stated, liberal estimates point to 1,000 Daesh fighters and, apart from the bluster coming out of Baghdad, we have seen no evidence that the thousands allegedly killed were Daesh fighters at all. This is of course not to mention that administrators in the world's largest cemetery in Najaf said that they were conducting approximately 100 funerals a day for troops killed fighting Daesh in Fallujah.

So far, the ISF has not even bothered to take a leaf out of Israel's playbook and photograph dead civilians with planted weapons to claim they had killed terrorists. This is unsurprising considering the Rambo-like stories being peddled by the Iraqi regime, with one army aviation helicopter pilot claiming he flew at low altitude in pursuit of a Daesh fighter and gunned him down with a pistol as his helicopter had run out of ammunition. Essentially, he committed an aerial drive by before claiming to have landed his helicopter triumphantly on the dead Daesh fighter's head. With such feats of extraordinary skill, the international coalition should be surprised that Daesh has not already been defeated.

Bravado and humorous fantasies aside, the Green Zone utterly failed to make the point that it is militarily successful. They outnumbered Daesh 60 to one or more and were supported by Western airpower, billions of dollars of investment and training, and Iranian military advisers, yet still took over a month to take the city. As a historical point of comparison, the Iraqi Army retook the Al-Faw Peninsula from the Iranian military occupation in 1988. It took that Iraqi Army less than 48 hours to clobber the Iranians and send them back to Tehran. The "modern" Iraqi military would not have been able to take Tikrit, Ramadi, Fallujah or any inch of Iraqi territory if it was not overwhelmingly supported by foreign powers, and even then it moves ponderously and is beaten on the ground repeatedly.

The Iraqi government seems to only be adept at using its forces for one thing these days – killing, torturing and looting civilians. The Iraqi military has lost all professionalism, and is now a vehicle for sectarian terrorist organisations to grant themselves a veneer of legitimacy only, while in reality being a tool to slaughter the people, and especially the Sunni Arabs, under the now tired justification of "fighting terrorism".

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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