Iraqi commander declares defeat of ISIL in Iraq’s Fallujah
FALLUJAH, Iraq – ReutersIraqi forces recaptured the last district held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants in the city of Fallujah on June 26 and the general commanding the operation declared the battle complete after nearly five weeks of fighting.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi claimed victory in Fallujah more than a week ago, but clashes continued inside the city west of Baghdad, including in its central Golan district.
The assault is part of a wider offensive by Iraqi forces against ISIL which seized swathes of territory in the country in 2014. A U.S.-led coalition has been supporting the offensive, mostly in the form of air strikes.
“We announce from this place in central Golan district that it has been cleaned by the counter terrorism service and we convey the good news to the Iraqi people that the battle of Fallujah is over,” Lieutenant General Abdul Wahab al-Saidi told state TV.
Flanked by jubilant fighters, some waving Iraqi flags, Saidi said a few militants were still holding out in buildings. At least 1,800 ISIL fighters were killed in the operation to retake Fallujah and the rest had fled, he said.
The swift entry of Iraqi forces into central Fallujah last week surprised many who expected a drawn-out battle with ISIL for the bastion of Sunni insurgency, where some of the toughest fighting of the U.S. occupation took place after 2003.
The success of the Fallujah operation launched on May 23 gives fresh momentum to Iraqi forces in the campaign to retake Mosul – ISIL’s de facto capital in Iraq and by far the largest city in their self-proclaimed caliphate.
Speaking from the newly recaptured Golan district, army Colonel Ahmed al-Saidi described seeing torn ISIL banners and discarded weapons.
“Fallujah has returned to us and Daesh’s existence is becoming history,” he said by telephone, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL. “The next defeat of Daesh will be in Mosul.”
Sabah al-Numani, a spokesman for the counter-terrorism forces that spearheaded the offensive told Reuters the insurgents had put up limited resistance in Fallujah and folded after some of their commanders abandoned the fight.
Iraqi forces were now working to dismantle bombs and booby-trapped houses, whilst pursuing militants who slipped out of the city from the northwest, Numani said.
Iraqi Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi said on Twitter around 90 percent of Fallujah remained “safe and habitable,” comparing that favorably with the cities of Ramadi and Sinjar, which were recaptured from Islamic State but destroyed in the process.
At least 82 killed in airstrikes in Syria
Meanwhile, at least 82 people including 58 civilians were killed in Russian and regime air strikes on an ISIL-held area of eastern Syria, a monitor said June 26 in a new toll.
“Three Russian and Syrian regime air raids on the region of Al-Quriyah, southeast of Deir Ezzor city, killed 58 civilians,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, according to AFP.
It added that 24 other people were killed, without specifying whether they were civilians or ISIL fighters.
The Britain-based Observatory, which has a network of sources in Syria, initially reported that 47 people including 31 civilians died in the raids around Al-Quriyah.
Russian warplanes have been carrying out an air war in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since September 2015.
ISIL holds around 60 percent of Deir Ezzor city, the capital of the province of the same name, which is next to the jihadist-held Raqqa province.
More than 280,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011, after a widespread protest movement evolved into a complex, multi-front war that has drawn in global powers.