Iraqi forces push into Fallujah

2016-05-30 18:08
Iraq's elite counter-terrorism forces gather ahead of an operation to retake ISIS-held City of Fallujah. (Khalid Mohammed, AP)

Iraq's elite counter-terrorism forces gather ahead of an operation to retake ISIS-held City of Fallujah. (Khalid Mohammed, AP)

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Baghdad - Iraqi forces started pushing into the city of Fallujah on Monday as a wave of bombings claimed by the Islamic State group (ISIS) in Baghdad and near the Iraqi capital killed at least 24 people.

The advance is part of an offensive to rout militants from Fallujah and recapture the city west of Baghdad, which has been held by the Islamic State for over two years. The offensive on Fallujah, backed by paramilitary troops and aerial support from the US-led coalition, was first launched about a week ago.

The battle for the strategic city is likely to be a protracted one, with Iraqi forces advancing slowly to minimise civilian casualties. Tens of thousands of civilians are believed to be still inside the city, trapped by the fighting.

Meanwhile, the bombings by the Islamic State, which has been behind several recent deadly attacks in Baghdad and beyond, are seen as an attempt by the militants to distract the security forces' attention from the front lines.

Since launching the Fallujah offensive and until Monday, Iraqi government troops have mostly been fighting ISIS in the outskirts of the city to tighten the siege ahead of a planned final push into its centre. By Sunday, the troops had recaptured 80% of the territory around Fallujah, according to Iraqi Major Dhia Thamir.

At dawn Monday, Iraq's elite counter-terrorism forces started pushing into Fallujah from its southern edge, said Brigadier Haider al-Obeidi. He described the clashes as "fierce," with ISIS deploying snipers and releasing a volley of mortar rounds on the Iraqi forces.

Fallujah, which is about 65km west of Baghdad, is one of the last major ISIS strongholds in western Iraq. The extremist group still controls territory in the country's north and west, as well as Mosul, Iraq's second largest city.

In a televised speech Sunday to parliament, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called on Fallujah residents to either leave the city or stay indoors. Government officials and aid groups estimate that more than 50 000 people remain inside the centre of the Sunni majority city.

Read more on:    isis  |  iraq

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