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Monday , December 6 2021

Iraq forces flushing IS out of last Falluja pocket

A member of the Iraqi counter-terrorism forces drives an armed vehicle fl ying his national fl ag near a mosque in Falluja on June 23. Iraqi forces have retaken more than 80 percent of Falluja from the Islamic State group, the commander of the month-long offensive on the jihadist bastion said. (AFP)
A member of the Iraqi counter-terrorism forces drives an armed vehicle fl ying his national fl ag near a mosque in Falluja on June 23. Iraqi forces have retaken more than 80 percent of Falluja from the Islamic State group, the commander of the month-long offensive on the jihadist bastion said. (AFP)

FALLUJA, Iraq, June 23, (Agencies): Iraqi forces closed in on the last neighbourhood of Falluja still held by the Islamic State group Thursday while aid groups struggled to deliver relief to desperate civilians. A month into a major offensive against one of the jihadists’ most emblematic bastions, elite forces were close to establishing full control over Falluja.

“I can say that more than 80 percent is controlled by our forces,” Lieutenant General Abdulwahab al-Saadi, the operation’s overall commander, told AFP in Falluja.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory a week ago already and recent operations have focused on fl ushing out pockets of resistance in northern neighbourhoods of Falluja. Speaking from a recently reconquered area in the north of the city, Saadi said IS fighters only retained a presence in the neighbourhood of Jolan and possibly parts of another called Al-Muallemin.

He estimated that IS only had as little as five percent of the manpower it had in those areas before Iraqi forces punched through defence lines and thrust into the city late last month. Falluja, which lies 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Baghdad, was the first city to fall out of government control in 2014, months before IS swept across Iraq’s Sunni Arab heartland and declared its “caliphate”.

In the Shorta neighbourhood, counter- terrorism service (CTS) forces had taken an IS explosives workshop, stacked with dozens of homemade rockets and bomb-making material. Welding equipment, yellow lumps of plastic explosives stored in an pot of paint, bags full of detonators and old sacks of palm dates stuffed with powder were still strewn across the rooms. In the deserted streets littered with rubble and torn down wires, the silence was only disrupted by the humming of drones, mangled iron creaking in the wind and the occasional controlled detonation of a roadside bomb. While entire blocks in southern Falluja were levelled during the height of the offensive earlier this month, substantial areas in the north of the city appeared to have escaped with relatively minor damage.

Senior CTS officer Mohannad al- Tamimi said he hoped the city’s tens of thousands of displaced residents could return soon. “Just here, eight improvised explosive devices have just been dealt with,” he told AFP, pointing to the road in front of Falluja’s main hospital. “In the next few days or weeks, families should return, once their cases have been approved by the city council,” he said.

Upcoming military offensives in Iraq against Islamic State, including an assault on the northern city of Mosul, could displace at least 2.3 million people, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Iraq said on Thursday. The prediction of such a vast humanitarian emergency creates additional complications for the Iraqi government and its US allies, who have announced plans for offensives to drive Islamic State fighters this year from most of their Iraqi territory.

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