Fallujah Will Fall Next

[ Posted Tuesday, April 12th, 2016 – 17:20 UTC ]

I'm going to start by apologizing, because this column will be a bit abbreviated. Outside life intervened, and I didn't have time today to write a full column. But rather than just re-running an old column, I thought I could get the idea I wanted to write about today across quickly, just to toss it out there for discussion.

I thought the subject of how the war against the Islamic State is going in Iraq was worth an update today, because the Iraqi forces are on the brink of reclaiming a pretty impressive swath of the map. I should mention up front that for the purposes of this article, I'm going to largely ignore how the war is progressing in Syria, for no other reason than to keep things focused.

The problem I have with the way the war is being reported is that there is often no context given to any individual reports. "Iraqi Forces Retake Hit" was the most recent headline, but no map is provided or explanation given of any sort of strategic big picture.

There are two maps worth looking at to see the progress being made in Iraq, one from a little over a year ago and one that is up to date. The recent one is posted on Wikipedia, and changes over time (people update it with recent developments). The historical one is from the Washington Post and was printed to a companion article about what was going on last February (the Kurdish forces were about to retake Sinjar).

Take a good look at the older map, to set the stage. The Islamic State forces (in red) had pushed almost to the outskirts of Baghdad, from several directions. They had progressed as far as Baqubah in the north and past Fallujah in the west.

Since that point, the Iraqi military (aided by U.S. air power) has retaken large chunks of territory, and has driven the Islamic State far back from what it controlled a year earlier. Take a look at the recent map to clearly see this. In the far north of Iraq, the Kurds (shown in yellow, with the Islamic State shown in black) have retaken not only Sinjar, but also the border crossing (into Syria) nearby. They now control the main highway from the border up to (but not including) Tal Afar, on the outskirts of Mosul.

But what is more interesting is the amount of success the reconstituted Iraqi army (shown in red) has achieved. They pushed their way northward from Baghdad, retaking Baqubah, Samarra, Tikrit, and Baiji. There is still a polyp of Islamic State territory around Hawija, and there is still a ways to go to get to Mosul, but the Iraqis have gained back a lot of the Baghdad-to-Mosul route.

But the more recent gains have been made on the route west from Baghdad, heading towards the Syrian border. Haditha has been under government control for a while, but it was an island of Iraqi control for a long time, surrounded by Islamic State territory. This is no longer the case. The Iraqi army first took Ramadi, then concentrated on all the smaller towns along the road west, until finally (last week) they retook Hit. In doing so, they gained control of the entire route from Baghdad to Haditha. Now, instead of Haditha being an island in a sea of Islamic State territory, the opposite is true of Fallujah. Fallujah is still under Islamic State control, but it is under siege. Almost everything surrounding it is now back under Iraqi government control.

A few weeks back, the Iraqi military made a grandiose announcement that the battle for Mosul had started. I discounted it then as battlefield propaganda (designed to make the Islamic State fighters in Mosul nervous), and so far that's all it seems to have been. I now expect that the battle for Fallujah will precede any offensive aimed at Mosul, even if there have been no such official announcements.

Militarily, the reasons are obvious. Just look at that recent map. Retaking Fallujah is going to be a nasty fight, but also a necessary one. If the Iraqi government kicks the Islamic State out of Fallujah, then they will have complete control over the lands to the west of Baghdad once again. There will eventually be a push from Haditha towards the border towns of Husaybah and Al-Qa'im, which would give the government control of everything on this route all the way to their border. There will be some mopping up required after that, to retake the desert wastelands in between the major routes, but the grip the Islamic State held over this portion of the country will be broken even before that is achieved.

In the north, things are more complicated, both politically and militarily. Mosul is the largest city the Islamic State has managed to take in Iraq, and it's going to be a hard-fought battle to retake it. Before that is even accomplished, I would expect a push from the north by the Kurds (to retake Tal Afar, for starters), and from the south by the government forces and militias (to secure the rest of the highway into Mosul from the south). That neither of these things has happened yet is a good indication that the battle for Mosul is going to be delayed at least long enough for the recapture of Fallujah.

Because there are no official American troops on the front lines, the American public really isn't paying all that much attention to the war against the Islamic State. In Syria, the war is multi-sided, making it even harder to comprehend what is going on. But for the past year, there has been nothing but good news out of Iraq, in terms of pushing the Islamic State back. Retaking the town of Hit was the most recent of this good news. Because things move slowly on the battlefield, it's hard to put any one piece of news into context, but a quick look at where things stood a year ago versus the situation now shows that a lot of real progress is being made by Iraq.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


17 Comments on “Fallujah Will Fall Next”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    The underlying theme of this piece, Chris, is strategic patience.

    Most critics of President Obama's foreign policy, particularly with respect to the Middle East and the Islamic State, fail to take into account the inherent complexity of the challenges he is dealing with and the benefits of approaching them with a certain degree of deliberation and persistence.

    While there are valid points to be made about the slowness and weakness of Obama's action against IS, there are also strong arguments to be made against precipitous US action in the Middle East and all of the unintended consequences that we know can flow from that.

    The evolution of IS has been a very long process with much of it aided by ill-informed US action and reaction in the region. We have to accept that defeating this group of violent Islamist extremists will take time and steady leadership from all corners.

  2. [2] 
    altohone wrote:

    Hey CW

    "Because there are no official American troops on the front lines"

    Sheesh man.
    California still hasn't sunk in?

    That qualifier before "American troops" is straight out of the mouth of a Washingtonian... I mean... unofficially of course.

    The Iraqis having to win back their country's territory will always be a black mark on America.
    So, I would recommend keeping the cheerleading for these "victories" to a minimum.

    The rubble that was formerly cities and the looted ancient cultural sites only pale in comparison to the family trees missing whole branches.

    Maybe a running tally of the American and Iraqi expenditures on this war would help... but then, maybe not.


  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    Excellent analysis of the issue, CW.. We'll make a military strategist out of you yet!! :D

    Let me get one thing off my chest first.


    Everything is good and right with the world once more!!! :D

    OK, that's taken care of.. :D

    OK, to war..

    But, it's NOT a war.. All we're doing is dropping bombs and killing innocents as collateral damage by the thousands... Which is obviously a bad thing (at least it is when a POTUS with an '-R' after his name does it) but it's a necessary evil...

    The problem is.... and this leads into more of what Liz wrote than the actual commentary.... is by prosecuting this action in this manner, Obama is PROLONGING the suffering and the death and destruction..

    Now, I grant you.. A logical case can be made for NOT putting hundreds of thousands of boots on the ground. The BEST argument against said boots is that Obama has so decimated and demoralized our fighting forces that we don't HAVE the hundreds of thousands of troops to send in..

    So, no matter how you slice it, this "war" is solely and completely the property of Hussein Obama.. And ALL the death and destruction can be laid at his feet...

    Which is WHY he is back underwater in his approval ratings!! :D Like the way I tied that in?? :D


  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, could not have defined the challenge more succinctly when in recent congressional testimony he called Russia “an existential threat to the United States, and to our European allies and partners.” Through threats and blandishments, and divide and conquer tactics, Putin seeks to destroy the alliance’s confidence and cohesion. NATO successfully countered this approach during the Cold War and, with determined U.S. leadership, we have the ability to counter it again.

    But there are new dimensions to this old equation that make the challenge especially difficult. One relates to growing doubts over U.S. credibility in the world and the U.S. commitment to Europe in particular—anxieties that Putin readily exploits. {emphasis mine} The other new dimension is Putin himself, in particular the perception that he is more opportunistic, and perhaps reckless, than any Russian or Soviet leader since Khrushchev. Given his now demonstrated record of aggression in Georgia and Ukraine, and the sheer brutality of his military campaigns in Chechnya and Syria, it is clear that the most important step the U.S. can take to maintain security in Europe is to fortify and reassure any NATO member states potentially subject to Russian pressure. Standing with our allies is the surest way to deter aggression and secure peace. It is a lesson from the Cold War we should never forget.

    This is exactly what I am talking about.. Hussein Obama has so degraded our fighting capability and has made the US's "military might" the butt of jokes the world over.

    Our allies are rolling their eyes and our enemies are laughing with glee..

    This is the legacy of Hussein Obama...


  5. [5] 
    TheStig wrote:

    I have to say that there is no really good map that encapsulates the strategic problem posed by Syria and Iraq. The ideal map would superimpose:

    Ethnic composition
    Who controls what territory
    Roads and urban centers
    Oil fields pipelines and terminals

    This problem could be solved with an ArcInfo workstation and an unpaid intern working on his/her M.S. degree. I am at a loss for why this seems to have not happened.

  6. [6] 
    TheStig wrote:

    "the reconstituted Iraqi army (shown in red) has achieved. They pushed their way northward from Baghdad, retaking Baqubah, Samarra, Tikrit, and Baiji."

    The Iraqi army is moving up the Tigris Watershed. The watershed determines where urban areas and roads are. It's beads on a string. The Iraqi army is basically a road bound army. The 4 beads mentioned above are all ethnically Sunni. An occupation force does not change this demography. Sunni resistance is not entirely gone, it has simply gone to ground where it lives and blends. It can be revived, quite unexpectedly, as happened in the wake of the US occupation and again when the "Islamic State" popped up seemingly out of nowhere. Saudi Arabia has it's clients, so does Iran, so does Turkey.

    "Islamic State fighters will need to rely on lengthier and potentially riskier routes to transport their troops, cash and weapons."

    Quite so, but the same can be said of the Iraqi government forces now occupying the beads. The Iraqi army is mechanized, but it's not genuinely air mechanized. Caravan raids are a traditional form warfare in the desert. Where does the Iraqi (Baghdad) Govt. go from here? How do you stabilize gains over the long haul outside Shiite territory? What kind of map is United States policy hoping to see? The old map of a a unified Iraq, or something else?

    That is a Grand Strategy question, and the US answer remains vague. Iraqi Govt. military capability remains questionable.

  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    This problem could be solved with an ArcInfo workstation and an unpaid intern working on his/her M.S. degree. I am at a loss for why this seems to have not happened.

    Just a guess, mind you.. But I am guessing it's because there is enough feces amongst the analysis that ANY faction can use to call all the other factions' ideas into question..

    In short, the actual facts can be spin'ed to castigate and denigrate anyone's ideas...

    That's my guess, cynical though it may be...


  8. [8] 
    TheStig wrote:


    In short, the actual facts can be spin'ed to castigate and denigrate anyone's ideas...

    Situation normal...Deal with it.

  9. [9] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Russia “an existential threat to the United States, and to our European allies and partners.”

    Who'd of thunk it? Is there a medal for spotting the obvious? Isn't that we have a military?

  10. [10] 
    TheStig wrote:

    By the way, I agree with Liz.

  11. [11] 
    Michale wrote:

    In short, the actual facts can be spin'ed to castigate and denigrate anyone's ideas...

    Situation normal...Deal with it.

    Yer preachin' to the choir, big guy... :D

    I am a BIG fan of coming up with a good plan, executing a plan and let the chips fall where they may..

    "If we are to be damned, let us be damned for what we really are..."
    -Captain Jean Luc Picard, STAR TREK TNG, Encounter At Farpoint


    Russia “an existential threat to the United States, and to our European allies and partners.”

    Who'd of thunk it? Is there a medal for spotting the obvious?

    Apparently it wasn't so "obvious" in the 2012 Election.. I seem ta recall ya'all and Obama ridiculing Romney resoundingly (say THAT three times fast! :D ) for making that exact claim...

    So, NOW you admit that Romney was right.... Right?? :D


  12. [12] 
    Michale wrote:

    This is exactly the kind of thing that having a wimp as CinC brings..

    US Navy Ship Encounters Aggressive Russian Aircraft in Baltic Sea

    Russia is being a bully...

    The ONLY way to respond to a bully is to bloody his nose...

    Splash the bandits!! THAT will teach the necessary lesson..

    Obama's response??

    U.S. officials are using existing diplomatic channels to address the interactions while the incidents are also being reviewed through U.S. Navy channels.

    Whine and cry and stamp his feet like an impotent coward...

    That's our leader!! :^/

    No wonder his approval is heading down...


  13. [13] 
    Michale wrote:

    CW, can you rescue a comment from the NNL filter??

    Tanks.... And planes!!! :D


  14. [14] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    there you go...

    sorry for the delay...


  15. [15] 
    Michale wrote:

    No worries.. Thanx :D


  16. [16] 
    Michale wrote:


    From a previous commentary..

    "The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don't kid yourself. When they say they don't care about their lives, you have to take out their families"

    someone said something about gestapo tactics?

    You mean like Obama's drone strikes that kill THOUSANDS of innocents just to get at one terrorist???

    How is that any different than what Trump is proposing??


  17. [17] 
    Michale wrote:

    Don't get me wrong..

    I fully support President Obama in his drone campaign... And I have to be honest and say that Trump's hyperbole does leave me a bit uneasy...

    But A-the point is not Obama's actions but rather why the Left Wingery in general supports (by their silence) those actions and 2- Trump's hyperbole is just that.. Campaign hyperbole.. Like Obama's knife/gun campaign hyperbole in the 2008 POTUS-ential elections...


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