BEIRUT, LEBANON (10:30 P.M.) – The most brutal battle against ISIS in Iraq is yet to take place. The location of this battle is not in central Iraq where a pro-government offensive is now imminent. Instead it will be near Iraq’s western border with Syria at town called Al-Qa’im.
What will make this engagement so brutal is not so much that ISIS has a particularly huge amount forces prepared to defend Al-Qa’im, although several thousand militants can nonetheless be expected to participate in the battle. Rather it will be so due to the that fact the terrorist group enjoys universal support from the population of Al-Qa’im which has in excess of one hundred thousand residents.
Accounting for the countryside and smaller towns around Al-Qa’im whose residents are also universally pro-ISIS, the 100,000 sympathizers number quickly increases to about half a million.
During the US occupation of Iraq from 2003 to 2011, even first-rate American army and marine formations failed to truly subdue the jihadist rebellion in Al-Qa’im.
Despite a number of successful operations that technically destroyed terrorist forces and their assets in the town over the course of 2004 to 2005, the US continued to experience major difficulties insofar as fully controlling the town.
As late as the autumn of 2005, there were reports by American mainstream media outlets that a large sign existed outside the town which read “Welcome the Islamic Republic of Al-Qa’im.”
The general resentment of the town’s residents towards the US occupation and their willingness to physically resist it ensured that a group of jihadist gunmen were always present to spring up and attack US and Iraqi troops regardless of how forlorn and suicidal their attempts were.
Unlike in other areas of Iraq where the Sunni insurgency was initially quite secular and later became radicalized due to a number of external and internal factors that compounded during the years of and just after the US occupation, the resistance encountered by American forces in Al-Qa’im and the region around it was almost totally of a jihadist nature right from the start.
In the end, American forces resigned themselves to just holding a base (Camp Gannon) outside of Al-Qa’im, abandoning their pacification efforts in the town itself. By this time, Iraqi security forces – somewhat driven out by the town’s residents – had long since left the settlement and its surrounding area.
However, even this was not to be the end of it.
The American base near Al-Qa’im came under attack so persistently (in some cases with car and truck bombs) that although no real damage was ever inflicted on the garrison even it was eventually surrendered and US troops pulled back to central Iraq.
As Iraqi forces enter the region around al-Qa’im, they will likely encounter thousands of ISIS militants – may of them with years of experience in fighting US troops – fighting within a battle-space that they have prepared years in advance and who are supported logistically by tens of thousands of non-uniformed civilian auxiliaries.
Moreover, ISIS fighters in the region will be supported morally by hundreds of thousands of civilian sympathizers who cannot imagine a return to life under what they consider an apostate regime which is controlled by a Crusader superpower. With this in mind, an uncomfortable percentage of them will likely at some point commit to some kind military action against Iraqi forces.