Iraqi army closes in on IS mil­i­tants holed up west of Fal­luja

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL -

FAL­LUJA, Iraq—Iraq’s army sought on Mon­day to elim­i­nate Is­lamic State mil­i­tants holed up in farm­land west of Fal­luja to keep them from launch­ing a coun­ter­at­tack on the city a day af­ter Baghdad de­clared vic­tory over IS there.

Backed by air strikes from a U.S.-led coali­tion, Iraqi ar­tillery bom­barded tar­gets as troops closed in on up to 150 in­sur­gents in ar­eas along the south­ern bank of the Euphrates river, an army of­fi­cer par­tic­i­pat­ing in the oper­a­tion said.

The gov­ern­ment’s re­cap­ture of Fal­luja, an hour’s drive west of the cap­i­tal, was part of a broader of­fen­sive against IS, which seized large swathes of Iraq’s north and west in 2014 but is now be­ing driven back by an ar­ray of forces.

Fal­luja’s re­cov­ery lent fresh mo­men­tum to the cam­paign to re­take Mo­sul, Iraq’s sec­ond largest city and the big­gest any­where in the ji­hadists’ self-pro­claimed caliphate and which Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi has pledged to re­take this year.

Colonel Ahmed al-Saidi, who par­tic­i­pated in Mon­day’s ad­vance, said ground forces were mov­ing cau­tiously to avoid trig­ger­ing road­side bombs planted by Is­lamic State.

“They (holed-up mil­i­tants) have two op­tions: ei­ther they sur­ren­der or they get killed. We want to pre­vent them catch­ing their breath and at­tack­ing our forces with car bombs.”

Saidi said ra­dio in­ter­cepts sug­gested the mil­i­tants were run­ning out of am­mu­ni­tion and he ex­pected them to fold shortly.

The mil­i­tary’s swift ad­vance sur­prised many who an­tic­i­pated a pro­tracted bat­tle for Fal­luja, a bas­tion of Sunni Mus­lim in­sur­gency where some of the fiercest fight­ing of the U.S. oc­cu­pa­tion of Iraq took place in 2004 against Is­lamic State’s fore­run­ner, al Qaeda.—Reuters

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