Special forces enter “third phase” in fight to recapture the central city from ISIL, as 50,000 people remain trapped.
by Al Jazeera
Iraqi special forces launched an assault on one of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group’s most emblematic bastions, Fallujah, as the group counter-attacked in both Iraq and neighbouring Syria.
The assault was launched in the early hours of Monday morning. Troops entered the city from three directions.
“Iraqi forces entered Fallujah under air cover from the international coalition, the Iraqi air force and army aviation, and supported by artillery and tanks,” said Lieutenant-General Abdelwahab al-Saadi, the commander of the operation.
“CTS forces, the Anbar police and the Iraqi army, at around 4am (01:00 GMT), started moving into Fallujah from three directions,” he said.
“There is resistance from Daesh,” he added, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL.
Al Jazeera’s Omar Al Saleh, reporting from Erbil, cited military sources saying that at least 10 Iraqi security forces and members of allied Shia militias were killed in the early hours of the offensive, while 25 more were injured.
Also on Monday in Ramadi, which is less than 100km from Fallujah, Iraqi police said that at least 15 special force soldiers were killed in an ISIL attack.
Meanwhile, at least nine people were killed and 26 were wounded in bombings north and northeast of the capital, Baghdad.
Fighting on Monday followed battles a day earlier, adding to the exodus of thousands of desperate civilians from the surrounding areas and deep concern for the many more trapped in the battlegrounds.
The week-old operation to capture Fallujah has so far focused on retaking villages and rural areas close to the central city, which lies just 50km west of Baghdad.
CTS’s involvement will mark the start of a phase of urban combat in a city where US forces in 2004 fought some of their toughest battles since the Vietnam War.
Only a few hundred families managed to slip out of the Fallujah area, with an estimated 50,000 people still trapped inside the city proper.
According to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), around 3,000 people have managed to escape the Fallujah area since May 21.
The biggest wave so far arrived to camps for displaced people on Saturday night, NRC said, but a larger influx could be triggered when the urban battle between CTS and ISIL begins in earnest.
“Our resources in the camps are now very strained, and with many more expected to flee we might not be able to provide enough drinking water for everyone,” said Nasr Muflahi, NRC’s Iraq director.
“We expect bigger waves of displacement the fiercer the fighting gets.”
$48 for a kilo of rice
The Fallujah operation has come at a human cost, rights groups said, amid battles between ISIL (also known as ISIS) fighters and the advancing Iraqi army and allied Shia militia.
One Fallujah resident told Al Jazeera by phone that there is lack of medicine and fuel in the city.
“There is some food. We have vegetables, enough to survive. But there is no rice and sugar, the price for a kilo of rice here reached $48,” the resident said. “ISIL is on alert on the outskirts of the city. Its fighters have set up checkpoints and prepared ambushes, which prevent people form leaving.”