Iraq stalls Fallujah assault ‘to protect civilians’

Iraq stalls Fallujah assault ‘to protect civilians’

Iraq stalls Fallujah assault ‘to protect civilians’

AFP photo

Iraq has delayed its assault on the city of Fallujah because of fears for the safety of civilians, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on June 1, as his forces halted at the city’s edge in the face of ferocious resistance from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). 

Abadi’s decision to halt, two days after elite Iraqi troops poured into the city’s rural southern outskirts, postpones what was expected to be one of the biggest battles ever fought against ISIL. 

The government, backed by world powers including the United States and Iran, has vowed to win back the first major Iraqi city that fell to the group in 2014.

“It would have been possible to end the battle quickly if protecting civilians wasn’t among our priorities,” Abadi told military commanders at the operations room near the frontline in footage broadcast on state television. “Thank God, our units are at the outskirts of Fallujah and victory is within reach.” 

Fallujah has been a bastion of the Sunni insurgency that fought both the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the Shiite-led Baghdad government. ISIL fighters raised their flag there in 2014 before sweeping through much of Iraq’s north and west. 

Abadi first announced plans to assault Fallujah 10 days ago. But with 50,000 civilians still believed trapped inside the city, the United Nations has warned that militants are holding hundreds of families in the center as human shields. 

After heavy resistance from ISIL fighters, the troops have not moved over the past 48 hours, keeping their positions in Fallujah’s mainly rural southern suburb of Naimiya, according to a Reuters TV crew reporting from the area. 

Explosions from shelling and air strikes as well as heavy gunfire could be heard on the morning of June 1 in the city that lies 50 kilometers west of Baghdad.