The Fallujah military operation was announced late Sunday night by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who said Iraqi forces are "approaching a moment of great victory" against ISIS in the wake of recent gains in the far western town of Rutbah and other towns in the Euphrates River Valley.
WHAT IS THE IRAQI MILITARY DOING IN FALLUJAH?
Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said Monday that the Iraqi military had begun to conduct "shaping operations" outside Fallujah and had not entered the city. "Fallujah is important," he said. "It's the last remaining stronghold within Anbar province. It's the ISIS position closest to Baghdad and a place we're going to be working very closely with Iraqi partners to retake.”
Davis said that he did not know what the role of the militias would be in Fallujah but that "they have largely a relationship of co-existence with Iraqi forces and are aligned against ISIS."
WHY AN OFFENSIVE NOW?
In early 2014, ISIS found support among Iraq's dominant Sunni Muslim population, which resented the policies of the Shiite-led government of then–Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Since then, retaking Fallujah has been a priority for the Iraqi government, even though it may not be as tactically important as it once was.
The U.S. military believes that about 1,000 ISIS fighters remain in Anbar province and that their numbers are decreasing. Davis said many ISIS fighters have left Anbar and particularly Fallujah, which he described as "a distant outpost for them" that has been "hard to sustain over time."
Two Iraqi army brigades have encircled the city for months in anticipation of a planned offensive, which seemed to await the slow progress of the Iraqi military in retaking Ramadi to the southwest.
IS FALLUJAH IMPORTANT FOR RETAKING MOSUL?
Two weeks ago, Col. Steve Warren, the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said that retaking Fallujah was not a military prerequisite for an offensive toward Mosul and that doing so would be an Iraqi "political decision."
He anticipated that retaking Fallujah would be "a tough nut for the Iraqis to crack," given that the city has been under ISIS control for more than two years.