Last Sunday, Iraqi military officials announced that the city of Falluja — whose takeover by the Islamic State in late 2014 was considered a low-water mark in the fight against radical Islamists — had been liberated after a monthlong operation backed by U.S.-led coalition forces.
Basking in that success, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, head of the forces’ counterterrorism squad, said: “[W]e congratulate the Iraqi people and the commander in chief . . . and declare that the [Falluja] fight is over.”
Now, as Baghdad reels from suicide bombings that killed over 100 residents as the holy month of Ramadan drew to a close, those congratulations ring hollow. And while the White House, condemning the attacks, insists that this latest outrage “only strengthens [the] United States’ resolve to confront Islamic State militants,” it’s clear that the I.S.’s resolve to wreak as much catastrophic destruction throughout the region as it can also remains unabated.
The liberation of Falluja was supposed to be a tide turner, yet Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi seems to have had no political plan in place beyond celebrating the city’s newfound “freedom.” There are fears that Falluja, a Sunni enclave, has escaped one brutal regime only to face another in the Shia leadership that has moved in.
It’s been reported that Shia militiamen, after helping to oust the I.S. from Fallujah, executed dozens of Sunni men. If so, is it any wonder that tens of thousands of residents would rather molder in overcrowded refugee camps than go back home?
The Iraqi forces and their allies will likely continue the piecemeal retaking of rebel-held areas in hope of rooting out Islamic extremism in the region, but as the Falluja fallout shows, simply pushing the I.S. out will not, by itself, materially improve the quality of life there and might just compel the rebels to pop up elsewhere, as determined and deadly as ever.