BAGHDAD, June 21, (Agencies): Iraq’s government forces on Tuesday dislodged the Islamic State group from two northern neighborhoods of Falluja as an Iraqi military commander claimed the month-long offensive to recapture the city had left 2,500 IS militants dead. The announcements came just days after the government had declared the liberation of Falluja, the last bastion of the Islamic State group in the sprawling western Anbar province. With aerial support from the US-led coalition, Iraqi special forces took control of the neighborhoods of al-Shurta and al-Jughaifi, special forces’ Brig Gen Haider al-Obeidi told The Associated Press. He said Iraqi military engineers were clearing the streets and buildings of left-over bombs.
Teaming up with paramilitary troops and backed by the US-led coalition, Iraqi government forces launched the largescale Falluja operation in late May. On Friday, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory after special forces entered the city center, capturing government buildings and the central hospital. In an interview with the local al-Sumaria TV late on Monday, the counterterrorism forces’ chief in the Falluja operation, Lt General Abdul-Wahab al- Saadi, said about of 2,500 IS fighters have been killed in the offensive.
He offered no evidence to back up his claim and also said the number of IS fighters inside Falluja had ranged between 3,500 to 4,000 when the offensive began. He claimed about 15 percent of them were foreign fighters. He cited Iraqi police reports as saying 1,086 IS-linked suspects have been arrested. He didn’t say how many IS militants remain in Falluja.
Iraqi troops have not disclosed their losses in Falluja, though the Islamic State group claims to have killed dozens The operation has fueled an exodus of thousands of families, overwhelming camps for the displaced run by the government and aid groups. In a briefing on Tuesday in Geneva, the UN refugee agency said more than 85,000 people have fled Falluja and the surrounding area since the offensive began.
UNHCR called for $17.5 million to meet the immediate needs of the growing number of displaced. UNHCR spokeswoman Ariane Rummery said that she expected that thousands more “could still be planning to leave the city.” “These escalating needs have pushed UNHCR funding into crisis levels,” Rummery said. “We are exhausting available resources in Iraq to deal with the rapid developments” in Falluja. The extremist group still controls Iraq’s second-largest of Mosul and large parts of neighboring Syria. According to UN figures, the violence has forced more than 3.4 million Iraqis to flee their homes.
More than 40 percent of the displaced are from Anbar province. Only a third of Falluja has been “cleared” of Islamic State militants, the US-led coalition said Tuesday, days after the Iraqi government declared victory in the city west of Baghdad, which was held by the extremists for more than two years
. Other parts of the city are “contested,” said US Army Col Christopher Garver, the Baghdad-based spokesman for the coalition, with clashes underway between Iraqi security forces and IS fighters. Most of the cleared terrain is in the south of the city and “clearing operations continue outward from the city center,” Garver added. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Friday that Falluja had “returned to the embrace of the nation,” and that remaining IS pockets would be “cleaned out within hours.” But in recent days there have been persistent clashes between Iraqi forces and IS fighters holed up in dense residential neighborhoods along the city’s northern edge. “What it looks like is (an IS) defensive belt around the city with not as stiff defenses inside,” Garver said, explaining that as Iraqi forces move out from the city center they may encounter additional pockets of stiff resistance. “That could be their toughest fighting,” Garver added.
Iraqi commanders on the ground say their forces continue to make progress and have killed hundreds of militants. Iraqi special forces backed by US-led airstrikes have taken control of the neighborhoods of al-Shurta and al-Jughaifi , al- Obeidi told the AP on Tuesday.
He said Iraqi military engineers were clearing the streets and buildings of left-over bombs. Starvation They fl ed starvation and jihadist tyranny in Falluja for the safety of displacement camps but thousands of Iraqi families still have nothing to eat and nowhere to sleep. “The government told us to leave our homes, so we did. The way they described it, we were going to find heaven,” said Ayyub Yusef, a 32-year-old from Falluja. “I don’t regret leaving because we would have died there. Here, we are alive, just about, but it’s really just another kind of hell,” he said.
Yusef, his wife and two children are among the tens of thousands of Falluja residents who have fl ed the government’s operation against the Islamic State (IS) group in the city. More than 60,000 people have been forced from their homes in the area over the past month and a sudden influx of civilians pouring out of the city centre last week has left the aid community unable to cope. Yusef’s family was rejected from several camps that were already full and washed up on the shores of Lake Habbaniyah, where yet another camp was being erected. He had not been given a tent yet and had been left to sleep outside with his family for four nights. “My parents finally got a tent in another camp, so we will try to reach them to sleep with them tonight,” he said.
As the blistering sun set on the lake, once a coveted holiday spot in Iraq, men swarmed round a truck to collect tent poles and tarpaulins. “We were expecting some kind of accommodation at least but we were given nothing. Now we have to erect our own tents,” said 49-year-old Taresh Farhan, banging on the canvas and poles with his fist to straighten them out. One young woman was furious.
“We had to live through the tyranny of DAESH (IS) and now it’s just another injustice,” she said, declining to give her name. “Five days here and nothing to eat, not even a bottle of water… This camp is just like the rest of Iraq, if you don’t have connections, you will get nothing,” she said. “Shame on them, there is no bathroom for the women… We have to go in the desert,” said the woman, her eyes blazing with rage through the slit of her niqab face veil.