Reuters is reporting that Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi “has delayed” the operation to retake Fallujah, owing to strong ISIS resistance and a fear of unnecessarily endangering the civilians who are trapped in the city:
Abadi’s decision to halt, two days after elite Iraqi troops poured into the city’s rural southern outskirts, postpones what was expected to be one of the biggest battles ever fought against Islamic State.
The government, backed by world powers including the United States and Iran, has vowed to win back the first major Iraqi city that fell to the group in 2014.
“It would have been possible to end the battle quickly if protecting civilians wasn’t among our priorities,” Abadi told military commanders at the operations room near the frontline in footage broadcast on state television. “Thank God, our units are at the outskirts of Fallujah and victory is within reach.”
The offensive was stalled anyway, whether out of this concern for civilians or just because ISIS’s resistance has been too strong, so this doesn’t really chance the situation very much. It’s not clear, though, when the operation will ramp up again.
Abadi is under a considerable amount of political pressure to dislodge ISIS from Fallujah (which will, among other things, hopefully reduce the group’s ability to carry out terror attacks in nearby Baghdad). But part of that pressure involves concluding the operation in the right way, i.e., without exacerbating tensions between Sunni Arabs and Baghdad. Taking steps to minimize civilian casualties, if that’s really what’s happening here, is the right thing to do both from that political perspective as well as from the obvious moral perspective.