Iraq be­gins lib­er­at­ing heart of Fal­lu­jah

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL -

BAGH­DAD—The Iraqi Army has de­clared on Satur­day the start of an oper­a­tion to lib­er­ate Fal­lu­jah’s city cen­ter, con­sid­ered to be ISIS strong­hold in the western prov­ince of An­bar, Al Ara­biya News Chan­nel re­ported.

Iraq’s counter-ter­ror­ism forces de­ployed on the edge of Fal­lu­jah Satur­day for the first time since an oper­a­tion was launched to re­take the mil­i­tants-held city, top com­man­ders said.

The counter-ter­ror­ism ser­vice (CTS), Iraq’s best­trained and most battle-tested fight­ing unit, moved into po­si­tion on the bound­aries of Fal­lu­jah.

“CTS forces, An­bar emer­gency po­lice and tribal fight­ers... reached Tareq and Mazraa camps” south and east of Fal­lu­jah, Ab­del­wa­hab al-Saadi, the top com­man­der in charge of the Fal­lu­jah oper­a­tion, told AFP.

“These forces will break into Fal­lu­jah in the next few hours to lib­er­ate it from Daesh,” he said, us­ing an acro­nym for ISIS. CTS spokesman Sabah al-No­man con­firmed the de­ploy­ment but would not com­ment on the timing of an as­sault.

“CTS forces moved to Fal­lu­jah to take part in clear­ing the city from within. The oper­a­tion is shift­ing to ur­ban war­fare af­ter Iraqi forces com­pleted the siege of the city,” he said.

“CTS forces will break into the city, that’s what they spe­cial­ize in,” No­man said. The news comes af­ter paramil­i­tary forces sanc­tioned by the Iraqi gov­ern­ment have with­drawn from an east­ern dis­trict in Fal­lu­jah they had taken from ISIS mil­i­tants and handed over the area to Bagh­dad cen­tral com­mand troops and tribes­men, a se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cial said Satur­day.

Head of Fal­lu­jah op­er­a­tions Lieu­tenant Com­man­der Ab­dul­wa­hab al-Saadi said the decision over the dis­trict of Gourma came af­ter an or­der from Iraq’s Gen­eral Com­mand of the Armed Forces.

The paramil­i­tary forces, known as the Pop­u­lar Mo­bi­liza­tion Forces (PMF) or al-Hashd al-Shaabi forces in Ara­bic, were ini­tially made up of Shi­ite armed groups and vol­un­teers af­ter an edict by in­flu­en­tial spir­i­tual leader of Iraq’s Shi­ite ma­jor­ity, Grand Ay­a­tol­lah Ali al-Sis­tani, who called on Iraqis to fight ISIS.

PMF forces are un­der the con­trol of the in­te­rior min­istry, how­ever, ob­servers have crit­i­cized the paramil­i­tary forces for com­pet­ing with the Iraqi army and threat­en­ing Bagh­dad’s cen­tral com­mand. Some of the mili­tias that make up the group are said to be Iran-af­fil­i­ated and re­ceive fund­ing from Tehran.

There were also re­ports of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions af­ter PMF took part when lib­er­at­ing the Iraqi city of Tikrit last year.

To ease fears from the coun­try’s Sun­nis, who have long claimed marginal­iza­tion by Bagh­dad, Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi said that the PMF forces would not par­tic­i­pate in lib­er­at­ing Fal­lu­jah but will only work to sur­round the city, which is An­bar’s cap­i­tal.

How­ever, sources to Al Ara­biya News Chan­nel said PMF has par­tic­i­pated in bat­tles in both Gourma and Al-Sijr, north of Fal­lu­jah.

On Thurs­day, Bagh­dad Op­er­a­tions Com­mand chief Lieu­tenant Ab­du­lamir al-Shi­mari said Gourma is now un­der Iraq’s con­trol.

He said Iraqi flags were raised and dozens of ISIS mil­i­tants were killed af­ter re­cap­tur­ing the dis­trict. Iraqi forces launched an oper­a­tion to re­cap­ture Fal­lu­jah, an ISIS strong­hold lo­cated just 50 kilo­me­ters west of Bagh­dad, at the start of this week.

On Satur­day, Al Ara­biya News Chan­nel’s cor­re­spon­dent said ISIS hit back with a suicide car bomb­ing to halt the Iraqi army’s ad­vance on Fal­lu­jah.—Agen­cies

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