Iraqi forces prepare to retake Fallujah

Iraqi-forces-prepare-to-retake-Fallujah.  BAGHDAD,  The Iraqi government told residents of Fallujah on Sunday to flee their city because a military coalition plans to retake the city from the Islamic State.

An Iraqi soldier, assigned to the 35th Iraqi Army Brigade, reattaches an M2 machine gun to an M1 Abrams tank at the Besmaya Range Complex, in Iraq, on April 10, 2016. Iraqi soldiers took part in this training to enhance their proficiency and maintenance skills on heavy weapons. The army, as part of a coalition, plans to retake Fallujah from the Islamic State. Photo by Sgt. Paul Sale/U.S. Army/UPI

Civilian families would be allowed to leave the city through designated safe zones, the military’s Joint Operations Command said. Those who cannot leave should raise white flags, according to a broadcast on state TV.

The command did not say when the operation would take place by the Iraqi army, counterterrorism forces, police, tribal fighters and Shiite militias.

About 20,000 federal police officers with armored vehicles and artillery are on the outskirts of Fallujah “in preparation for storming the city,” Lt Gen. Raeed Shakir Jawdat, commander of the federal police, said in a statement.

Fallujah is one of the last holdings in Iraq by the IS, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh.

The city on the Euphrates River had a pre-war population of about 300,000. It has been encircled by Iraqi forces and a coalition of Shia Muslim armed groups known as Hashid Shaabi.

Eissa al-Issawi, the exiled mayor of Fallujah, said IS militants were retreating from the outskirts to the center of the city Sunday.

The recapture of Fallujah would leave Mosul as IS’s only major foothold in Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi spoke with President Barack Obama on Saturday night, according to the White House. The prime minister gave an update on progress in Anbar province and vowed that Fallujah would be liberated soon.

Obama reaffirmed U.S. support for Iraqi Security Forces, emphasizing its key role in defeating IS. He noted the United States and the International Coalition will continue to train, advise and assist Iraqi forces.

The IS took control of Fallujah in December 2013.

By Allen Cone