By: ISW Iraq Team, Sinan Adnan & Nichole Dicharry
The last three days have witnessed a prioritization of Anbari areas where the Iraqi Government has largely not committed resources since the fall of Mosul in June 2014. The district of Rutba fell to ISIS on June 25, 2014 and has been under uncontested control by the organization ever since. ISIS control of Rutba has allowed it to control major parts of the highway connecting Iraq to Jordan and Syria. ISIS has used this control to generate revenue by taxing commercial traffic from Jordan. ISIS presence in Rutba has also created a threat to Karbala, prompting the ISF to allocate ISF, Iraqi Shi’a militias, and volunteers to the border with Anbar to defend Karbala from ISIS attacks. Although ISIS has maintained control of Rutba since June, it has not used the area to launch serious attacks until January 4-5, 2015 attacking ISF outposts and Saudi border positions, respectively. It is likely that these recent attacks prompted the Iraqi Government to prioritize Rutba, possibly at Saudi Arabia’s request. Moving to eastern Anbar, ISIS has similarly maintained control over Fallujah and its environs since January of 2014, prompting the government and Iraqi Shi’a militias to deploy forces east, southeast, and northeast of Fallujah to prevent ISIS and other anti-government groups from projecting power towards Baghdad. Previous operations launched during the Maliki government to clear the environs of Fallujah have proved to be challenging and stopped short of achieving their objectives. If the reports about an assault on Fallujah are confirmed, it will be important to watch for the composition of the forces, especially if tribal forces play a major role in the operation. This would indicate that some previously un-committed or anti-government tribes have changed their stance. It will also be important to watch for the ISIS response, especially if ISIS launches a major attack from Fallujah through the militia and ISF defenses around Baghdad.