Pictures of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani visiting Shi’ite militiamen in Fallujah have outraged Sunni lawmakers from Anbar province. Iranian media released the pictures of the al-Quds brigade commander making what was an unannounced and, so far, unconfirmed visit with the Shi’ite troops. The Iraqi government has claimed to have a need for Iranian advisers during the war on the Islamic State militants, so the visit is likely to have happened. There are also reports that the Iranians are building a large base in Sulaymaniya province.
M.P. Hamid al-Mutlaq, however, criticized that need and questioned whether Turkish or Saudi advisers would be just as welcome. In fact, Baghdad has ordered Turkish advisers to leave northern Iraq in recent months. The troops are there with the permission of Iraqi Kurdistan, but not with Baghdad’s consent.
Other lawmakers rightly bring up sectarian concerns. Sunnis in Anbar do no want the Shi’ite militiamen in their province at all, let alone an Iranian general guiding them. Before Daesh took over Fallujah, protests against Baghdad’s treatment of Sunnis had been taking place in Anbar. Some of them were met with deadly violence.
By taking advantage of this discord, the Islamic State found support and quickly occupied Fallujah and much of Anbar province. Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, the commander of allied forces in Iraq fears there may still be enough discontent among the Sunnis to fight security forces trying to reclaim Fallujah.
About 800 civilians have escaped the Daesh cordon around Fallujah, but authorities lament that most of them were from surrounding areas and not the city itself. Despite the creation of safety corridors, residents are unable to pass freely from their homes to areas of Iraqi control. Residents are unable even to reach the city cemetery; they’ve been forced to bury their dead in their own gardens.
Iraqi special forces are now in position around Fallujah with the hope to enter the city itself within hours.
At least 208 people were killed and 55 were wounded:
Shelling killed two women and injured 20 others who were trying to escape Amiriyat al-Fallujah.
Two people were killed and five were wounded in a bombing in Husseiniya.
In Baghdad, a blast killed one person and wounded five more.
A civilian was shot dead in Sadr City.
A bomb killed two militiamen and wounded four more in Latifiya.
In areas just north of Garma, security forces killed 110 militants and wounded 20 more.
Eighty militants were killed in strikes on Albu Bali and Khalidiya.
In Sajar, four militants were killed.
Security forces in Hasa killed two suicide bombers.