Operation Fallujah: Iraqi forces struggle to breach city centre

Operation Fallujah: Iraqi forces struggle to breach city centre
Iraqi government forces have entered a southern suburb of Fallujah but were pinned back by a massive IS counterattack, as the prime minister warned of 'sectarian slogans' from militias.
3 min read
01 June, 2016
Iraqi forces have been pushing into the city's southern sections after securing surrounding areas [Getty]

Iraqi forces and allied militias have struggled to break into the centre of the Islamic State group [IS] bastion of Fallujah, as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arrived to meet with military commanders.

Elite Iraqi forces positioned on the edge of Fallujah met fierce resistance early on Wednesday from the besieged militants seemingly condemned to making a suicidal last stand.

"There has been fierce fighting across Fallujah since early this morning. Government forces backed by Shia militias broke through the southern wall of the city but were pushed back by IS fighters and landmines," military sources told The New Arab.

"Fighting is ongoing to the west of the city, where it seems IS has weaker defences," the sources said, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

They added that troops on both sides had been killed in the clashes.

Colonel Sami al-Ahbabi told The New Arab that Prime Minister Abadi arrived on the eastern outskirts of the city on Wednesday to meet with military and militia leaders.

"During the meeting Abadi highlighted many points, including the [Shia] militias' sectarian slogans and symbols in videos published on social media. He described their actions as harmful to the unity of the nation and an insult to the offensive," Ahbabi said.

      Iraqi government troops launched the military operation
to recapture Fallujah from Islamic State militants more
than a week ago [TNA]

The Popular Mobilisation Forces known in Arabic as al-Hashd al-Shaabi have been one of most effective forces fighting IS in Iraq, but it has also been accused of attacking Sunni civilians after recapturing territory from IS.

After a week of shaping operations aimed at sealing the siege of Fallujah, which lies just 50 kilometres west of Baghdad, elite forces launched a new, more aggressive phase on Monday morning.

But they have so far been unable to reach the city centre and battle IS fighters in the streets.

Iraqi commanders claim they have killed dozens of IS fighters since the start of the operation on May 22 but have been coy about releasing their own casualty figures.

Yet the number of coffins being sent back to some of Iraq's southern provinces and of burials reported in the Shia Muslim holy city of Najaf suggest that the anti-IS camp is also paying a heavy price.

Officials in Basra said the southern province had lost 26 fighters from the Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary force alone.

An official in Najaf province, who did not want his name to be published, confirmed 12 deaths from the province.

Inside Fallujah, tens of thousands of trapped residents were under increasing pressure from worsening shortages and nervous IS fighters preparing for a desperate holdout.