Al Qaeda now patrolling the streets of Fallujah

Reports and statements conflict over who is now in control in Fallujah. It is clear that AQI has visible freedom of movement in the city and may be holding 75 Iraqi soldiers prisoner there. Moreover, it is likely that AQI’s control is accelerating in the city. If reports are true that AQI fighters have arrived in Anbar, it indicates that AQI plans to augment its forces in the province and engage in a sustained military effort around the cities. It will be a major victory for AQI if it truly captured 75 soldiers, and the ISF will be in a very difficult situation if the main government camp in Fallujah is now controlled by armed gunmen. There are still conflicting reports about the camp, but it is clear that armed groups are attacking ISF infrastructure.

The Iraqi Army will likely continue its aggressive attack on Fallujah in order to wrest control from AQI. It has already begun to do so through artillery and missile strikes. The Iraqi Army lacks the precision intelligence, targeting, and weaponry that would be required to clear the city without re-leveling it. The threat of civilian casualties or population displacement are high. The resonance among Iraq’s Arab Sunnis of the Iraqi Army fighting in the streets of Fallujah may trigger violent uprising against the government in other provinces. It is unclear how Iraqi Sunni politicians will handle the double-edged sword of working with Maliki to counter AQI. De-escalation is primarily in Prime Minister Maliki’s hands. He and his allies have to refrain from provocative statements and behavior in order to ensure that Iraq AQI’s immediate threat is dealt a significant blow.