Iraq retakes full control of Fallujah from Islamic State - military

Iraq's western city of Fallujah has been fully "liberated" from the Islamic State after more than five weeks of fighting there against the extremist militia, a senior Iraqi commander said on Sunday.

The chief of the counter-terrorism forces in Fallujah, Abdel-Wahab al-Saadi, said that government troops on Sunday recaptured Fallujah's northern district of al-Julan, the militants's last stronghold in the city.

"We break to the Iraqi people the glad news that the military operations in Fallujah are over," he told state broadcaster al-Iraqiya. "Fallujah has become fully liberated."

Al-Saadi added that around 1,800 militants have been killed in Fullajah fighting since May 23 when the Iraqi forces, backed by US-led airstrikes, started an offensive to retake the city.

He did not give figures about casualties among government forces.

Fallujah, around 50 kilometres west of the capital Baghdad, was the first Iraqi city to fall to Islamic State in early 2014. The al-Qaeda splinter group seized more territory in the country in a lightning attack months later.

On June 17, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced victory over Islamic State in Fallujah. But fighting persisted inside the city between Iraqi troops and Islamic State.

Fallujah is a main city of the predominantly Sunni Anbar province.

Spokesman for Anbar police Yasser al-Dulaimi said that 32 Islamic State extremists and 10 Iraqi military personnel were killed in the fighting in al-Julan.

He told dpa that despite the announcement of "full liberation" of Fallujah, some militant remnants were still inside city.

"All pockets of Fallujah will be cleansed [of militants] in the next hours," al-Dulaimi said.

The onslaught for retaking Fallujah from Islamic State forced a massive exodus of locals from the city in the past weeks.

The Norwegian Refugee Council, an aid group, ruled out an imminent repatriation of those displaced.

"It is still too early to speak of returns for the tens of thousands of civilians who fled from Fallujah," the group’s director in Iraq Nasr Muflahi said on Sunday.

"We just do not know which areas are safe and which aren’t; we need a thorough de-mining of civilian areas and safety assessments before civilians are given the option to go back," he added in a statement.

The radical Sunni Islamic State still controls areas in Iraq's Sunni Arab north and west, including Mosul, the country's second-largest city.

Last week, the government launched a major attack aimed at retaking the strategic town of Qayyara south of Mosul from Islamic State.

The recapture of Qayyara would help isolate Mosul, located around 400 kilometres north of Baghdad.

Last update: Sun, 26/06/2016 - 16:05

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