Iraqi forces, allies begin offensive to retake Fallujah

By Andrew V. Pestano  |  May 23, 2016 at 10:06 AM
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BAGHDAD, May 23 (UPI) -- Iraqi security forces, supported by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, on Monday began an offensive on Fallujah aiming to recapture the city from Islamic State control.

The offensive is joined by Iraqi counterterrorism forces, Iraqi police, tribal fighters and the Popular Mobilization Forces Shiite militia group. Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad, has been under Islamic State control since early 2014.

At least two districts on the outskirts of Fallujah have been taken by forces allied with the government. At least 34 Islamic State militants have been killed.

The battle for Fallujah may be complicated as it is mainly inhabited by Sunnis, many of whom are suspicious of the involvement of Shiite militias including the Popular Mobilization Forces umbrella group. Iraqi security forces and allies began efforts to retake Fallujah months ago by isolating the city through the recapture of surrounding areas.

An IS communications center and an improvised explosive device factory were destroyed in recent airstrikes by coalition forces.The recapture of Fallujah would leave Mosul as the Islamic State's only major foothold in Iraq.

Iraqi security forces launched an offensive to retake Mosul from IS control in March. The effort began by isolating the city from surrounding areas and slowly chipping away at IS territory and supply routes.

Mosul is considered one of the most important battles in the fight against the Islamic State -- also known as Daesh, ISIS and ISIL -- in Iraq. U.S. President Barack Obama said he expects Mosul to be retaken by the Iraqi government by the end of the year.

The White House recently said IS has lost about 40 percent of area it previously controlled in Iraq.

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