Iraq PM announces start of operation against IS
Washington, May 23: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has announced the start of a military operation to retake Falluja from so-called Islamic State (IS).
“Zero hour for the liberation of Falluja has arrived. The moment of great victory has drawn near,” he said, adding IS had “no choice but to flee.”
Iraq’s military has already warned civilians to leave the town.
Falluja was the first city to fall to IS in 2014 and is one of its two remaining strongholds in Iraq.
The Iraqi military told state TV that those who could not flee should raise a white flag above their homes.
Iraqi officials say corridors will be provided for civilians to make their way to camps outside the city.
Reuters news agency quoted residents as saying 20 families left a front-line neighbourhood on Saturday, but only half made it out, succumbing either to IS fighters or explosives planted along their route.
The military, police and volunteer fighters virtually surround the city, about 65 km (40 miles) west of Baghdad.
The Baghdad-based pro-Kurdish news website Shafaq said on Sunday that close to 20,000 police troops had arrived on the outskirts of Falluja ahead of the expected assault.