Iraqi army storms to edge of ISIL-held Fallujah as fresh bombings hit Baghdad
BAGHDAD – Agence France-Presse
AP photoIraqi forces thrust into the city of Fallujah from three directions on Monday marking a new and perilous urban phase in the week-old operation to retake the jihadist bastion, as a new wave of bombing attacks hit Baghdad on May 30 and kill more than 20 people.
Led by the elite counter-terrorism service (CTS), Iraq’s best trained and most seasoned fighting unit, the forces pushed in before dawn, commanders said.
“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 [provincial] police and the Iraqi army, at around 4:00 am, started moving into Fallujah from three directions,” he said.
“There is resistance from Daesh,” he added, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL.
CTS spokesman Sabah al-Noman told AFP: “We started early this morning our operations to break into Fallujah.”
The involvement of the elite CTS marks the start of a phase of urban combat in a city where in 2004 U.S. forces fought some of their toughest battles since the Vietnam War.
The week-old operation had previously focused on retaking villages and rural areas around Fallujah, which lies just 50 kilometers west of Baghdad.
As government forces pressed their onslaught, a car bomb as well as suicide bombers driving a car and a motorcycle killed more than 20 people and injured over 50 in three districts of Baghdad, police and medical sources said, according to Reuters.
The May 30 bombings targeted two densely populated Shi’ite districts, Shaab and Sadr City, and one predominantly Sunni suburb, Tarmiya, north of Baghdad.
A car bomb in Shaab killed 12 people and injured more than 20, while in Tarmiya seven were killed and about 20 injured by a suicide bomber who pulled up in a car outside a government building guarded by police. In Sadr City, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed two people and injured seven.
Only a few hundred families have managed to slip out of the Fallujah area ahead of the assault on the city, with an estimated 50,000 civilians still trapped inside, sparking fears the jihadists could try to use them as human shields.
The only families who were able to flee so far lived in outlying areas, with the biggest wave of displaced reaching camps on the night of May 28.
“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, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Iraq director.
“We expect bigger waves of displacement the fiercer the fighting gets.”
Fallujah is one of just two major urban centers in Iraq still held by ISIL.
They also hold Mosul, the country’s second city and de-facto jihadist capital in Iraq, east of which Kurdish-led forces launched a fresh offensive on May 29.
The jihadists holed up in Fallujah are believed to number around 1,000.