The battle for the Iraqi city of Fallujah shifted to its centre Monday, as government forces pressed the battle against Islamic State militants.
The push came after days of fighting on the city's outskirts and on the same day as three deadly attacks struck in the nation's capital, Baghdad.
Iraqi forces were "advancing constantly" and results would be announced within hours, spokesman of the joint operation, General Yahia Rasoul, told Iraqi state television. In the meantime, a number of villages around the Islamic State stronghold, located 50 kilometres west of Baghdad, were captured in the early hours of Monday, Baghdad operations spokesman General Saad Maan said. Fallujah is one of the major cities in the mainly Sunni al-Anbar province, which stretches west from Baghdad to the Syrian and Jordanian borders. The province has been a key stronghold for the Sunni extremist group. But security forces, backed by airstrikes by a US-led coalition, have made a series of major gains there in recent months. Since December the militants have lost control of: the provincial capital, Ramadi; the city of Hit; and, almost two weeks ago, the town of al-Rutbah, near where the routes to Jordan and Syria meet. Fallujah was one of the first major cities in Iraq to fall to Islamic State, in early 2014, when the jihadist group took advantage of local fury at a deadly crackdown on Sunni protests ordered by then prime minister Nuri al-Maliki. Six months later, the jihadist group stormed through Sunni areas of northern Iraq, taking the country's second city Mosul as army units fled in disarray.
In other developments, Baghdad witnessed three deadly attacks Monday morning that claimed the lives of at least 21 and injured 55.
A car bomb went off in a marketplace in the al-Shaab neighbourhood in northern Baghdad, killing 12 and injuring 24 others, witnesses and medical sources said.
Two more people were killed and 12 others wounded in another suicide attack carried out by a bomber riding a motorbike in the eastern district of Sadr City, a Shiite-dominated district, hospital sources said.
The explosion caused severe damage to the buildings and stores in the area, according to witnesses.
A third attack was undertaken by a suicide bomber who detonated a car bomb near a government building in al-Tarmiyah district, killing seven and injuring 19 others, witnesses said.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the three attacks in a statement circulated on social media that could not be independently verified by dpa.