Iraqi forces take government compound in Fallujah

Iraqi-forces-take-government-compound-in-Fallujah.  FALLUJAH, Iraq,  Iraqi forces recaptured the government compound in Fallujah from Islamic State occupiers Friday and said they were close to taking back the entire city.

Iraqi government troops engage in combat northwest of Fallujah, Iraq, on June 10. Iraqi forces announced the capture of the government compund in the center of the city on Friday. Photo by Abbas Mohammed /UPI | License Photo

IS forces were seen evacuating their stronghold, 40 miles west of Baghdad, as were thousands of refugees who’d been freed from IS checkpoints along major routes leading from the city.

The success of Iraqi forces in Fallujah’s central neighborhoods comes after an assault by the Iraqi army, federal police, counter-terrorism units, Shiite militiamen and local tribal forces, backed by airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition. The assault began on May 23.

IS has held Fallujah for nearly two years, in part because of a majority-Sunni populace perceived as sympathetic to the occupiers. It was the first major city to fall. By the end of 2014, IS controlled about one-third of all Iraqi territory.

On Friday, the Iraqi flag was flown over Fallujah’s mayor’s office, which is in a compound of government, police and court buildings, a federal police statement said. The military said it had surrounded a hospital used by IS as a headquarters.

“We hope within the next few days to cleanse the whole of Fallujah from Daesh militants,” said government military command spokesman Brig. Yahya Rasool, using an alternative name for the militant group.

After days of bombardment on the city’s outskirts, IS put up little resistance to the assault on the city’s center, Iraqi commanders said.

The campaign has been marked by local Sunni leaders’ accusations that some arriving forces, Shiite militias, have kidnapped, killed and tortured hundreds of Sunnis who fled the city. They say the alleged militias’ abuses are revenge on those who welcomed the IS arrival and supported IS killings of Shiites.

While refugees have fled Fallujah since May, often under fire from IS forces, two bridges over the Euphrates River were opened Thursday, allowing residents to flee by the thousands. Their arrival in displacement camps overwhelmed aid organizations’ capability to provide food and shelter, and the International Organization for Migration said 68,000 people have left the city.

“Aid services in the camps were already overstretched and this development will push us all to the limit,” said Nasr Muflahi, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Iraq director.

By Ed Adamczyk