Iraqi forces fight to reclaim ISIS-held cities

The Islamic State’s most recent advances in northern Syria are some of the group’s biggest in two years, according to human rights leaders. And for the sixth day in a row, Iraqi forces, backed by U.S. airstrikes, battled militants in and around Fallujah, less than 40 miles from Baghdad. For more on the situation on the ground in Iraq, Washington Post reporter Missy Ryan in Baghdad joins Lisa Desjardins to discuss.

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  • LISA DESJARDINS, PBS ANCHOR:

    For more on the situation on the ground in Iraq, I'm joined via Skype by Washington Post reporter Missy Ryan, who is in Baghdad. Missy, thank you so much for joining us. Let me start first by asking you, who exactly is involved in this charge to retake Fallujah?

    MISSY RYAN, "WASHINGTON POST" REPORTER: Well, it's a wide array of government forces and government-aligned forces trying to reclaim the city of Fallujah. So it's the Iraqi police, federal police. It's the Iraqi army, and then it's Sunni tribal fighters and importantly, a wide array of Shiite militia groups. And we've counted at least 7 militia groups that are taking part in the operation, including some groups the United States particularly doesn't want to have anything to do with, such as Katab (ph), Hezbollah, which is considered a terrorist group by the Unites States government.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi, who has sort of helped put this coalition together, said on national TV this week that Iraqi national forces were approaching a moment of great victory. How important is this fight in Fallujah for his seemingly fragile Iraqi government?

  • MISSY RYAN:

    Yeah, it's a really important moment for Abadi right now. He is in the midst of a political crisis. He's facing urgent demands for reform. He's got a sort of shaky basis on his Shiite coalition. And he really needs a win. So it's an important moment for him. It's also an important moment for the Iraqi security forces. Remember, two years ago, the Iraqi army suffered a humiliating defeat when they largely collapsed in Northern Iraq ahead of the Islamic state's advance there. And so this is an opportunity for them to show that they can actually go into a rebel-held city and defeat the Islamic state.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    You spoke to the mayor of Fallujah. How desperate are things there?

  • MISSY RYAN:

    Seems like it's a very desperate picture there. The Islamic state has been in control of Fallujah since January 2014. But in recent months, because of a siege by government security forces designed to isolate the city, conditions – humanitarian conditions, living conditions have gotten very bad. So you've got a shortage of food, you've got a shortage of medication. There have been reports of people dying of hunger, obviously not having access to vital medical care. And the Islamic state is monopolizing and sort of dictating the distribution of what basic goods do remain.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    The U.S. military has spent about $500 million training rebel groups just in Syria. In part, that's to take on the Islamic state. Has that investment brought any results?

  • MISSY RYAN:

    Well, if you talk to U.S. military leaders, and that's something I've been doing this week here in Baghdad, they will say yes, it has. So the new program really seeks to stand up an advisory force that can identify and support rather than, you know, train in a sort of basic-training way, pulling people out of Syria. And so they say that now with about 300 American special forces in northeastern Syria, they've been able to make some progress in identifying not just Kurdish, but also Arab fighters. And I think that, you know, we've got to be pretty cautious about what we conclude about this program so far. I think it's probably too early to make an assessment. But they say that they're at least sort of getting a better picture of the battlefield, and understanding who are our potential partners there.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Missy Ryan from Baghdad and "The Washingon Post." Thank you for your reporting on this very important topic.

  • MISSY RYAN:

    Thank you.

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