Al Arabiya: Hezbollah’s Iraq branch fighting Fallujah battle
Al Arabiya English News/Wednesday, 25 May 2016
An Iraqi military spokesman said troops were trying to tighten the encirclement of Falluja by advancing on the western front, near the village of Khalidiya. Meanwhile, Iraqi Defense Ministry published an official report which includes statements confirming that the Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades are involved in the battle of Fallujah. Days ago, a YouTube account linked to Kata’ib Hezbollah, a US-designated terrorist organization and Iranian proxy, has uploaded a video showing a large convoy of its rocket launcher systems being sent to the front lines near Iraqi city of Fallujah.
From its part, days ago, Harakat al Nujaba, or Movement of the Noble, an Iranian- supported Shiite militia which operates in both Iraq and Syria, has said it is clearing a road in eastern Anbar province in preparation for an upcoming offensive to retake Fallujah from the ISIS. Also, Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force – the external operations wing of the Revolutionary Guards – was spotted in a picture said to be taken near Fallujah. A picture of Soleimani in the “Fallujah operations room” was posted to the Facebook account of Harakat al Nujaba.
Fear civilian casualties will worsen sectarian strife
On Wednesday morning Iraqi troops concentrated artillery fire on Falluja’s northern and northeastern neighborhoods, according to a resident contacted via the Internet. A Falluja hospital source said that six civilians were killed and 11 wounded on Wednesday morning, raising the overall death toll since Monday’s launch of the government offensive to 35 – 21 civilians and 14 militants.
“Fierce fighting is now raging around the city,” Save the Children said in a statement on Wednesday, calling for safe civilian exit routes to be established as quickly as possible. Falluja’s population is around 100,000, according to U.S. and Iraqi government estimates. The offensive is part of a government campaign to roll back Islamic State’s seizure of wide tracts of northern and western Iraq. Baghdad’s forces retook Ramadi, the Anbar provincial capital near Falluja, in December but have not yet tackled a bigger challenge – IS-held Mosul, Iraq’s largest northern city.
The Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq, a hardline political organization formed after Saddam’s ouster to represent Sunnis, has condemned the assault on Falluja as “an unjust aggression, a reflection of the vengeful spirit that the forces of evil harbor against this city”. Meanwhile, Iraq’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric urged government forces battling to retake Falluja.
Sistani wields enormous influence over Iraq’s Shi’ites. It was at his call that Shi’ite militias regrouped in 2014 in a coalition known as Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilization), to stem Islamic State’s stunning advance through the north and west.
Hashid Shaabi will take part in encircling Falluja but will not enter the city unless the Iraqi army fails in doing so, said Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of the Badr Organisation, the largest component of the Shi’ite coalition. “Our decision is to encircle the city from the outside and let the security forces operate; if the security forces are unable to cleanse the city, we will then go in,” he said, according to video recording on the state-run TV channel. Battle to retake Fallujah from ISIS rages on.