Iraqi forces were finally able to retake the city of Fallujah from Islamic State (IS) militants who held it for the last 2 ½ years. As part of a months long offensive, Iraqi forces laid siege to the city in late May. They waged battles against militants within to destroy the first lines of defense and make their way, stronghold by stronghold, further into the city. After weeks of fighting, IS defenses finally crumbled and Iraqi forces were able to reach the city center. Though met by heavy resistance, Iraqi forces, backed by the US-led coalition and the Iraqi Air Force, were able to reclaim Fallujah’s major government buildings, including the police station and municipality offices, all of which had been burned by the IS militants. When the militants seized the city in January 2014 they tore down Iraqi flags across the city and burned them, raising their own flags to replace them as they asserted their claim in the face of failed opposition. Having seized the city center from the militants, Iraqi servicemen were able to raise the country’s flag once more over the local council building. They seized the local hospital ,which the militants were using as a base, the very next day.
According to the Washington Post, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi officially declared Iraqi victory over the militants on Friday, June 17th. In his televised address, Abadi said, “We promised to liberate Fallujah, and today Fallujah was returned to the bosom of the country.” He also spoke directly to the militants, calling out their leaders’ false promises and telling them, “You have no place in this Iraq.”
“Your leaders have made promises to you and let you down. They promised you that they would withstand, and they didn’t… You have no place in this Iraq.”
Efforts are currently being made to fully secure the reclaimed areas of the city as well as to destroy the last remnants of the militant presence in surrounding neighborhoods. Troops are clearing mines and roadside bombs from the recaptured areas and the highway leading from the city to Baghdad. Many of the remaining IS militants retreated from the fight, which allowed thousands more Fallujah residents to flee the city. Humanitarian aid efforts are underway to assist those who have fled throughout the course of the offensive. There is not yet an exact number of refugees from the city or those still trapped inside. Aid groups have estimated the fleeing non-combatants at around 50,000. Deputy head of the Anbar provincial council, Falah al-Issawi, put that number higher at 63,000. The International Organization for Migration put the number still higher at an astounding 68,000. These people now join the hundreds of thousands who have been displaced as Iraqi forces, supported by airstrikes from the US-led coalition, reclaim territories seized by the IS throughout the Anbar Province.