The Raqqa offensive (codenamed Operation Wrath of Euphrates), is an ongoing military operation launched by the Syrian Democratic Forces against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the Raqqa Governorate, with the goal of isolating and eventually capturing the Islamic State’s capital city, Raqqa. Another one of the main goals is to capture the Tabqa Dam and the nearby city of Al-Thawrah. The offensive has also been dubbed the Battle to End All Battles in the War on ISIL. The offensive is concurrent with the Turkish anti-ISIL Battle of al-Bab, the Battle of Mosul in Iraq, the Battle of Sirte (2016) in Libya, the Palmyra offensive (December 2016) launched by ISIL, and a reignition of fighting in Deir ez-Zor’s siege.
The Libyan National Army has been carrying out air strikes on areas of Benghazi under the control of the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, including the city’s Ganfouda district. The strikes have endangered the lives of scores of detainees who are being held captive in Benghazi, according to Amnesty International. On the weekend, Libyan forces also said that they had edged further into the centre of Sirte, seeking to recapture the city from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL, also known as ISIS). Their advance came after heavy fighting the previous night, which killed dozens of people. Since last year, Sirte has become ISIL’s most important base outside Syria and Iraq, and its loss would be a major setback for the group.
Iraqi special forces launched an operation on one of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) most emblematic bastions, Fallujah, as the group counter-attacked in both Iraq and neighbouring Syria. In January 2014, it became the first Iraqi city to fall to ISIL – also known as ISIS – and it subsequently overran wide areas of the north and west of Iraq, declaring a caliphate that included seized territory in Syria. Army units advanced to the southern entrance to Fallujah, “steadily advancing” under air cover from the US-led coalition, according to a military statement read out on state TV. A Reuters TV crew at the scene said explosions and gunfire were ripping through Fallujah’s southern Naimiya district. The offensive is causing alarm among international aid organisations over the humanitarian situation in the city, where more than 50,000 civilians remain trapped with limited access to water, food and healthcare. Fallujah is the second-largest Iraqi city under control of ISIL, after Mosul, the group’s de facto capital in the north that had a pre-war population of about two million.
Tens of thousands of civilians escaped the city, 50km west of Baghdad, as a major advance by Iraqi forces penetrated central Fallujah in recent days. The aid community has been struggling to cope. Thousands of people suffering from hunger and trauma are stranded in the scorching summer heat with no shelter. “The estimated number of people displaced from Fallujah in just the past three days is 30000,” the Norwegian Refugee Council said. The UN’s refugee agency said up to 84000 people had been forced to flee their homes since the start of the government offensive against the IS bastion nearly a month ago.
“Agencies are scrambling to respond to the rapidly evolving situation. We are bracing ourselves for another large exodus in the next few days. We estimate that thousands of people are still trapped in Fallujah,” the UN Human Rights Council said. “We implore the Iraqi government to take charge of this humanitarian disaster,” Norwegian Refugee Council director for Iraq Nasr Muflahi said. The agency said it could no longer provide assistance and that water rations were nearly exhausted. It cited the case of a newly opened camp in Amriyat al-Fallujah, south of Fallujah, which houses 1800 people but has only one latrine for women.
“We need the Iraqi government to take a leading role in providing for the needs of civilians who have endured months of trauma and terror,” Muflahi said. An Iraqi aid worker at Amriyat al-Fallujah said the resources were inadequate to deal with the scope of the crisis. “Four hundred families have reached my camp in the past four days; they don’t have anything,” said a camp manager, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We were shocked by the number of displaced people and we weren’t prepared to receive them.”Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has promised to support Fallujah’s refugees. On Friday night, after Iraqi forces raised the national flag above the main government compound in Fallujah, he declared that the city had been “brought back to the fold”. But hundreds of IS fighters are still holed up in the city’s northern neighbourhoods.
On June 10, 2014, Mosul was occupied by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Troop shortages and infighting among top officers and Iraqi political leaders played into Islamic State’s hands and fueled panic that led to the city’s abandonment. Kurdish intelligence had been warned by a reliable source in early 2014 that Mosul would be attacked by ISIL and ex-Baathists (and had informed the US and UK) however Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Defence Minister turned down repeated offers of help from the Peshmerga. Half a million people escaped on foot or by car in the next 2 days. ISIL acquired three divisions’ worth of up-to-date American arms and munitions—including M1129 Stryker 120-mm mortars and at least 700 armoured Humvee vehicles from the then fleeing, or since massacred, Iraqi army. Many residents initially welcomed ISIL and according to a member of the UK Defence Select Committee Mosul “fell because the people living there were fed up with the sectarianism of the Iraqi government.”