The Iraqi military has launched an offensive against the ISIS-held city of Fallujah in western Iraq. A force of 20,000 soldiers, backed by US airpower, is attempting to expel the estimated 1,000 ISIS fighters holding the city. In 2013, the cities Sunni residents revolted against the Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. With the ISIS summer offensive in 2014, the extremists found a haven in the city. Iraqi security forces were expelled from the city, leaving the city of 300,000 people under ISIS control.
Fallujah has been a hotbed of militant activity since 2003 with the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). In 2004, the US launched two operations against fighters in the city. The Second Battle of Fallujah (November 2004) was one of the bloodiest battles during the eight year OIF campaign. Following the coalition’s victory, the violence in the city was significantly reduced.
Earlier this year, the Iraqi government recaptured Ramadi. The battle was encouraging for the Iraqi military. After the embarrassing performance of the Iraqi military in 2014, the central government needed a victory. Bolstered by the Battle of Ramadi, the Iraqi army moved north to retake the city of Mosul. Despite the heavy air campaign being launched against ISIS targets in the city and outlying areas, the Iraqi offensive has largely stalled. The Kurdish Peshmerga has had success against ISIS throughout northern Iraq and near Mosul, but without the full support of the Iraqi army, they lack the necessary manpower to retake Iraq’s second-largest city.
With Iraq’s attention now diverted toward Fallujah, the Mosul offensive appears to remain on hold. As Iraqi army forces moved west, they have begun liberating outlying villages. Hundreds of residents have started to leave the city as the Iraqi army prepares for their assault. Once Fallujah is retaken, it is expected Iraq will again divert the bulk of its forces and resources to capturing Mosul, and finally expelling ISIS from all its key cities.