On May 23, 2016 Prime Minister Haidar Abadi announced a new operation to try to free Fallujah had begun. That would include a collection of 20,000 fighters from the Golden Division, the army, the Rapid Reaction Brigade, Sunni tribal fighters, and various Hashd elements. A government spokesman said that the U.S. was supporting the campaign as long as the Hashd stayed on the perimeter.
The Hashd have been talking about freeing Fallujah for a year now. The Hashd originally tried to liberate the city in July 2015, which contravened PM Abadi’s effort against Ramadi that started at the same time. This came after pro-Iranian Hashd groups accused the premier and the Americans of keeping them out of the province resulting in the fall of Ramadi. In fact, Hashd units had been in Anbar fighting for months. The Hashd claimed it could liberate Fallujah and all of Anbar, but the campaign eventually ground down. In 2016 the Hashd started a new operation almost every month against the city, but half of them went to other towns like Thar Thar and Amiriya Fallujah instead, and little success was reported. As the Islamic State started its annual spring offensive marked by some high casualty bombings in Baghdad and southern Iraq, the rhetoric about taking Fallujah increased, along with more talk about Abadi and the Americans were blocking them. These statements were all to score political points, because while the Hashd were grabbing the headlines the Iraqi forces (ISF) were actually taking the lead.
Fallujah is the natural next step to the ISF’s moves in Anbar. In February 2016 it freed Ramadi. It then cleared out the surrounding towns and began marching west along the Euphrates clearing Hit in April and broke the siege of Haditha in May, before moving south to take Rutba and then the Trebil border crossing with Jordan. With most of western Anbar cleared the ISF swung back east to take care of Fallujah. General Abdul Wahab al-Saadi is in command of the operation. He was formerly the head of the Salahaddin Operations Command, and took part in the battles for Baiji and Tikrit.
With the combined forces and U.S. air support it is only a matter of time before Fallujah is taken, the real question will be the aftermath. While the fears of Hashd retaliation will come up, if the ISF are in the lead that hopefully will not become a major issue. More importantly is the state of the city afterward. It has been shelled and bombed relentlessly since it fell in January 2014. The Islamic State has laced the area with improvised explosive devices and booby traps. All together it may turn out like Ramadi, which the United Nations called the most damaged city so far in the war. Baghdad has no money to rebuild that city, meaning it will have none for Fallujah either leaving both destroyed and uninhabitable for months.
AIN, "ISF, PMU encircle Fallujah, liberate all its surrounded areas, MoD spokesman says," 7/16/15
Alkhshali, Hamdi and Karadsheh, Jomana, “Iraqi PM: Operation to free Falluja from ISIS starts,” CNN, 5/22/16
Al Maalomah, “Tlabawi: The Popular Crowd factions are gathered on the outskirts of Fallujah to free it,” 5/17/16
Sotaliraq, “Abadi announced the beginning of the process to liberate Fallujah,” 5/23/16
- “Who are the forces and factions participating in the liberation of Fallujah?” 5/22/16