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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Iraqi Security Forces join militia to encircle Fallujah.

Link: Iraqi forces closing in on Fallujah.

Earlier this week, the Iraqi government announced the commencement of the long-anticipated offensive to retake Anbar Province from the Islamic State (IS).  Originally, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) appeared to be focusing exclusively on Ramadi, with the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), previously referred to as "Shi'a militias", were moving to attack Fallujah.  The current situation, however, has both the ISF and the PMUs putting heavy pressure on Fallujah, while Ramadi endures the continued attention of both the allied air coalition and the Iraqi Air Force.  If the ISF and PMUs are successful in encircling Fallujah, this will fully isolate Ramadi, and cut off any lines of supply from the west.  After capturing Fallujah, the ISF should have a less-difficult time with Ramadi.  But action in Fallujah has provided a grim reminder that the IS fighters seem content to fight to the death.  Very few prisoners are being transported for debriefing, which leaves two possibilities: either the IS fighters are purposely dying for the cause, or the ISF and the PMUs have decided that prisoners are an unnecessary complication.  In this theater, nothing would surprise me.

The immediate success of this offensive will have repercussions on other fronts.  The IS will have fewer resources to dedicate to offensive maneuvers of there own design.  Already there has been a slackening on SVBIEDs.  Although Ramadi is usually the name that ends up in the newspapers, Fallujah is only forty miles from Baghdad.  The citizens of Baghdad are aware of this proximity, which made it essential from a public relations perspective, that the government appear to be making the security of the capital its highest priority.  In the past, when the ISF has conducted offensive operations, the IS had deadened the effect by almost simultaneously conducting operations itself, either through the use of SVBIEDs or attacks on military camps and installations.  While the ISF and the PMUs are focusing on Fallujah and Ramadi, the IS continues its assault on Haditha, with both VBIEDs and direct fire.  Although the fall of Haditha would be a blow to the government, it would be a reasonable trade-off for the liberation of Fallujah and Ramadi.

The IS is still capable of pulling off offensive operations that will distract from the Ramadi/Fallujah front.  Although the ISF and the PMUs continue to make progress in Baiji, a response from the IS is anticipated at any time.  The IS is attempting to keep the pressure on in Diyala Province, with low-level attacks against civilian targets continuing.  Interestingly enough, the IS has staged the second major assault in two weeks on PUK and Peshmerga positions.  Unlike Syria (at present), access to resources are the key to operations by IS in Iraq.  The IS already has tenuous supply lines coming from Syria into Iraq, which are constantly in jeopardy from air attack.  At the moment, the IS successes (Haditha, Tuz Khurmatu in northern Iraq) are in locations that are more easily resupplied, than for instance, Diyala Province and Ramadi.  The key to defeating the IS in Iraq is to continue to put pressure on their ability to resupply their far-flung forces.  As each location is rolled up, pressure must continue from air sorties.  Each victory must be followed up with another operation; the IS must not be given time to find other avenues of re-supply.  Because the IS is in control of vast swaths of Syrian territory, cutting off supply routes will be much more difficult.  But no army has ever survived and flourished without supplies and reinforcements.  Cut off the IS from its resources and watch it starve to death.  

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