Iraq forces close in on Fallujah
Iraqi forces cleared areas around Fallujah on Tuesday after launching an assault to retake the city, tightening their siege on Islamic State group fighters but also raising fears for civilians trapped inside.
With the jihadists surrounded and outnumbered, the recapture of their iconic bastion looked ultimately inevitable, especially after IS suffered a string of losses in recent months. But illustrating that even a diminished IS is still dangerous, the group has struck back with a wave of bomb attacks, including a series of blasts that left more than 160 dead in Syrian regime coastal strongholds on Monday.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the start of the operation to retake Fallujah on Monday and less than a day into the battle, Iraqi forces had secured the nearby town of Garma. That cut off IS fighters in Fallujah from one of their last support areas and paved the way for more advances towards the city, which lies only 50 kilometres west of Baghdad.
“Federal forces advanced towards the east of Fallujah early Tuesday from three directions,” police Lieutenant General Raed Shakir Jawdat told AFP. The Hashed al-Shaabi umbrella paramilitary organisation, dominated by Tehran-backed Shiite militias that are heavily involved in the operation, said ground was also gained south of Fallujah.
With forces converging on the city, concerns mounted that the tens of thousands of civilians believed to still be inside had nowhere to go.
The Norwegian Refugee Council estimated the number at 50,000 and urged efforts to get them out. “Families who have been suffering food and medical shortages over the last months now risk being caught in the crossfire and it is absolutely vital that they are granted safe routes out of there so that we can assist them,” NRC country director Nasr Muflahi said in a statement.