Battle for Falluja will end in western district, says Iraqi commander

Battle for Falluja will end in western district, says Iraqi commander
# 21 June 2016 02:14 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. U.S.-backed Iraqi forces fighting Islamic State militants in Falluja are advancing toward jihadist strongholds in western districts where they expect the final push to recapture the city will take place, the Iraqi commander said on Monday, APA rpeorts quoting Reuters.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory on Friday after troops reached the center of the city, an hour's drive west of Baghdad, but an official in the U.S.-led coalition said on Sunday Iraqi forces had so far taken only half of Falluja.

The operation to recapture the Iraqi city longest held by Islamic State entered its fifth week on Monday, and fighting has forced more than 85,000 residents to flee to overwhelmed government-run camps.

Iraqi forces continue to face shooting, suicide bombs and mortar attacks as they confront militants north of a road running through the city.

Heavily armored Interior Ministry police units were pressing toward Golan neighborhood, on the northwestern edge of the city, Lieutenant General Abdul Wahab al-Saidi told Reuters at his temporary command post in a southern district.

"The biggest effort now is on the western axis. If they collapse on the western axis and our forces reach Golan, you won't hear any more shots inside Falluja," he said.

Troops from Saidi's counter-terrorism force were fighting Islamic State in al-Dhubat district, further east. Fifty militants were killed there by coalition air strikes on Sunday and at least 15 others died in clashes, the commander said.

Army troops moving north from the neighborhood of Shurta had not yet entered al-Jughaifi area on the city's northern edge, while units from Baghdad operations command were advancing in the easternmost district of Askari, according to Saidi.

Sitting with other officers from the elite counter-terrorism service at a plastic picnic table littered with walkie-talkies inside an unfinished building, Saidi said the battle would end soon.

Most of the militants, including a few hundred foreign fighters, were killed or captured trying to escape with civilians, he said. Only six counter-terrorism commandos had been killed.

Government troops launched the operation on May 23 to retake Falluja, a bastion of the Sunni Muslim insurgency against U.S. forces that toppled Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, in 2003, and later against Shi'ite-led governments.

Enemies of Islamic State have launched major offensives against the jihadists on other fronts, including a push by U.S.-backed forces against the city of Manbij in northern Syria.

They amount to the most sustained pressure on Islamic State since it proclaimed a religious caliphate in 2014.