Saturday, June 18, 2016
Iraq retakes most of Falluja
Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Friday that Iraqi forces have retaken most of Fallujah from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (IS, Daesh). However operations are still under way to flush out the armed group's remaining fighters in the city.
The government lost control of Fallujah in 2014, months before Daesh took Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, and other large parts of the country. "We promised you the liberation of Fallujah and we retook it. Our security forces control the city except for small pockets that need to be cleared within the coming hours," Abadi said in a brief address on state TV. "Fallujah has returned to the nation and Mosul is the next battle," Abadi also said on Twitter. "Daesh will be defeated," he added.
Earlier on Friday, Iraqi forces said they had entered the centre of Fallujah, nearly four weeks after the start of a US-backed offensive to retake the city 50km west of the capital, Baghdad. They took the government compound and the Iraqi flag is now raised on top of the building, symbolising government control
Government troops and Shia units known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces are leading the campaign to retake the Sunni city from IS. They are supported by US-led coalition air strikes. Commanders said their forces had met limited resistance from ISIL fighters during the push into the city centre. According to medical sources in Falluja the casualty figures were in te hundreds. Parts of the city are still in the hands of Daesh troops, however, and the humanitarian situation remains alarming.
The Iraqi government previously said it had a strategy to establish safe corridors for civilians in the city centre to leave, but many have been reluctant to go for fear of how they may be treated by the Shia units. There are many reports about abuse by the members of the Shi'ite militia. Thousands others have fled the city and its surrounding areas since the military offensive was launched on May 23, but the UN said that tens of thousands are still inside the city - last week, the UN said up to 90,000 people were believed to be inside Fallujah, in a significant revision of a previous estimate of 50,000.
Many escaping the fighting have been detained and kept at detention facilities, with reports of abuse and violations by government forces and Shia fighters. The UN says detention facilities lack basic services, including medicine and food.
The humanitarian crisis in Iraq has been dubbed one of the world's worst by the UN.
Since the beginning of the present conflict in 2014, more than 3.4 million people have been internally displaced and 2.6 million have fled Iraq.