This article was originally published by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) on 27 May 2016.
The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and the Popular Mobilization launched a major operation on May 23 to recapture Fallujah from ISIS. Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi announced Operation Breaking Terrorism late on May 22 following weeks of force build-up in the area. The ISF and Anbar Sunni tribal fighters carried out shaping operations to the south of Fallujah in the weeks prior, recapturing al-Salaam Junction and moving along the southern road on May 7. Iranian proxy Shi’a militias, including Kata’ib Hezbollah and Harakat al-Nujaba, deployed heavily to the vicinity of Fallujah beginning on May 17. Progress of the actual operation has been rapid, with the joint ISF-Popular Mobilization forces recapturing key locations within the first 24 hours. These included Garma sub-district, a small town northeast of Fallujah, and Naimiyah on the southern edge of Fallujah City on May 23. Even before ISIS, Sunni militants including Jaish al-Mujahideen, the 1920 Revolution Brigades, and Jaish Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandiyah (JRTN) used Garma as a support zone. As of May 26, security forces have captured much of the Garma area and have pressed on Fallujah’s northern, eastern, and southeastern flanks, though the progress of the ISF and Popular Mobilization in Albu Shajal and Saqlawiyah, on the northeastern axis, remains limited. These areas need to be controlled in order to complete the encirclement of Fallujah.
Operation Breaking Terrorism comes amid a period of instability for Baghdad and the Iraqi government. PM Abadi is weak, and the Council of Representatives has failed to make quorum due to boycotts by numerous parties, including the Kurdistan Alliance, the Reform Front, and the Sadrist Trend. Meanwhile, Sadrist demonstrators have threatened Baghdad security, breaking into the Green Zone and major government buildings first on April 30 and again on May 20, when protesters clashed with security forces. The demonstrations have exceeded the Interior Ministry’s security forces’ ability to provide basic protection in Baghdad; the increased instability caused by large-scale protests has required the deployment of additional forces to the capital, including members of the Golden Division, a unit within the elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), that closed the entrances of the Green Zone on May 20.
Iraqi soldiers graduating from basic training
This interview was originally published by E-International Relations on 6 January 2016.
Nadim Shehadi is an associate fellow of Chatham House where he directs a programme on the regional dimension of the Palestinian refugee issue in the Middle East Peace Process. He is also director of the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, as well as a senior member of St Antony’s College Oxford where he was director of the Centre for Lebanese Studies from 1986 to 2005.
Where do you see the most exciting research/debates happening in your field?
The most exciting and dynamic conversation is happening on social media, it is spontaneous, continuous and instant. It is quite sophisticated and with unwritten rules. I don’t think that ‘retweets are not endorsements’ really means it, people generally stick to a narrative and spread what is in line with their version of events or discredit what is not. Eventually they form closed circles and interact with like-minded people. There is a whole battle being fought there and it is fascinating to watch that live on your device, you can learn so much from it and you have access to people’s inner thoughts.
Graffiti displaying the word “Hamas”. Photo: Soman/Wikimedia Commons.
Editor’s Note: This article is included in our ‘Conflict Hotspots 2014’ dossier which can be accessed here .
Born of a common struggle against Israel and nourished by common benefactors in Syria and Iran, Sunni Hamas and Shiite Hezbollah have long been natural allies despite their sectarian differences. Ever since the early 1990s, when Israel exiled Hamas’ leadership to Lebanon, the two groups have cultivated an alliance that has shaped the Middle East’s balance of power for decades.
But the crisis in Syria has ruptured the old “axis of resistance,” with regional forces giving the two organizations opposing stakes in the conflict and bringing unprecedented tension to their relationship. While Hezbollah fighters have fought and died for Bashar al-Assad in some of the civil war’s fiercest battles, Hamas has thrown in its lot with the rebels and retreated deeper into the embrace of Sunni Islamist powers in the region. » More