Iraq forces face tough IS attack on fringes of Fallujah
Iraqi forces faced tough resistance from the Islamic State group on Tuesday as they attempted to enter the centre of Fallujah, where there were mounting fears for thousands of trapped civilians.
A day after announcing a push into the jihadist bastion, forces led by Iraq’s elite counter-terrorism service had some way to go before retaking the city.
After thrusting toward Fallujah from three directions on Monday, their biggest advance was from the south, where they pushed into the suburb of Naimiyah.
Lieutenant General Abdelwahab al-Saadi, the overall commander of the Fallujah operation, said IS fighters mounted a fierce counter-attack on the area early on on Tuesday.
“There were around 100 fighters involved, they came at us heavily armed but did not use car bombs or suicide bombers,” he told AFP.
Saadi said Iraqi forces in the area, which also include police and army units, were eventually able to repel the attack, killing 75 jihadists.
He did not give a figure for losses on the pro-government side.Provincial councillor Rajeh Barakat said Iraqi forces had now resumed their advance from Naimiyah. “The attack was repelled with air support from the international coalition and Iraqi aircraft,” he said.
Fallujah was lost from government control months before IS swept across large parts of Iraq in June 2014 and is an emblematic bastion for the jihadist group.
Iraqi forces have been sealing off the city for months and those still in city -- IS fighters and civilians alike -- have nowhere to go.
A Fallujah resident contacted by AFP by telephone said many civilians were eager to see the security forces recapture the city but that there was fear of what the jihadists might do as defeat loomed.
“There is some discontent among the people because we haven’t seen the Iraqi forces enter the centre yet,” said the resident, who gave his name as Abu Mohammed al-Dulaimi.
Only a few hundred families have managed to slip out of the Fallujah area ahead of the assault on the city, with an estimated 50,000 civilians still trapped inside, sparking fears the jihadists could try to use them as human shields.
The only families who were able to flee so far lived in outlying areas, with the biggest wave of displaced reaching camps on Saturday night.
“Our resources in the camps are now very strained and with many more expected to flee we might not be able to provide enough drinking water for everyone,” said Nasr Muflahi, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Iraq director.
“We expect bigger waves of displacement the fiercer the fighting gets.” In Amriyat al-Fallujah, a government-controlled town to the south of the jihadist stronghold, civilians trickled in, starving and exhausted after walking through the countryside for hours at night, dodging IS surveillance.