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Iraq faces tough Daesh resistance on Fallujah fringes

By AFP - Jun 01,2016 - Last updated at Jun 01,2016

Iraqi counterterrorism forces face off with Daesh on the southern edge of Fallujah, Iraq, on Tuesday, a day after launching an operation of the militant-held city with the help of US-led coalition air strikes (AP photo by Osama Sami)

BAGHDAD — Iraqi forces faced tough resistance from the Daesh terror group Tuesday as they attempted to enter the centre of Fallujah, where there were mounting fears for thousands of trapped civilians.

A day after announcing a push into the extremist stronghold, forces led by Iraq's elite counterterrorism service had some way to go before retaking the city.

After thrusting towards Fallujah from three directions on Monday, their biggest advance was from the south, where they pushed into the suburb of Naimiyah.

Lt. Gen. Abdelwahab Al Saadi, the overall commander of the Fallujah operation, said Daesh militants mounted a fierce counterattack on the area early on Tuesday.

"There were around 100 militants involved, they came at us heavily armed but did not use car bombs or suicide bombers," he told AFP.

Saadi said Iraqi forces in the area, which also include police and army units, were eventually able to repel the attack, killing 75 militants.

He did not give a figure for losses on the pro-government side.

Officers said US-led coalition and Iraqi air support was instrumental in repelling the attack and added that ground forces had now resumed their advance.

Fallujah, which lies on the Euphrates River west of Baghdad, was lost from government control months before Daesh swept across large parts of Iraq in June 2014 and is an emblematic bastion for the terrorist group.

Iraqi forces have been sealing off Fallujah for months and those still in city — Daesh fighters and civilians alike — have nowhere to go.

Anbar capital Ramadi was almost levelled when Iraqi forces retook it a few months ago but many more civilians — most estimates say around 50,000 — are trapped inside Fallujah.

The UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) spoke of "reports of several hundred families being used as human shields by ISIL [Daesh] in the centre of Fallujah”. 

A Fallujah resident contacted by AFP by telephone said many civilians were now eager to see the security forces recapture the city, but that there was fear of what the extremists might do as defeat loomed.

“There is some discontent among the people because we haven’t seen the Iraqi forces enter the centre yet,” said the resident, who gave his name as Abu Mohammed Al Dulaimi.

“Their treatment of the people is getting worse and worse every day. There is a feeling of panic among them it seems.”

“Daesh is angry because they don’t feel supported and they have been seen insulting people on the streets, shouting things like: ‘Cowards, you are not with us’.”

“Yesterday, they were rounding up young men from several parts of the city — we think maybe around 100 of them — and taking them to an unknown location,” he said.

Officers in the Iraqi forces say Daesh has been forcibly recruiting men and ever younger boys to man its defence of Fallujah.

A 40-year-old woman reached by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) inside Fallujah painted a dire picture of the conditions.

“The stocks in the hospitals are running low. There is no medicine for ordinary people. The doctor is affiliated with Daesh and he refuses to help ordinary people,” the aid group quoted her as saying.

“Instead of providing adequate treatment, doctors often simply amputate a patient’s arms or legs if they are in pain. There are no anaesthetics left in the hospitals.” 

 

Need for safe exits’

 

Thousands of civilians have escaped Daesh-controlled areas since the start of the operation to retake the city on May 22-23 but nearly all of them were from outlying areas.

The 50,000 civilians still believed trapped in the city centre would have to dodge Daesh booby-traps and incoming shelling from pro-government forces to reach safety.

“Civilians are trapped inside the city of Fallujah as fighting intensifies. With every moment that passes, their need for safe exits becomes more critical,” said Nasr Muflahi, the NRC’s Iraq director.

Daesh has come under mounting pressure on the battlefield in recent weeks, with Kurdish forces also gaining ground in the north in a two-day operation that wound up on Monday east of Mosul, the militants’ other urban bastion in Iraq.

On the back foot in Iraq, Daesh has tried to retain the initiative in neighbouring Syria with an offensive against non-extremist rebels in the north of Aleppo province along the Turkish border.

That fighting, which the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said intensified on Tuesday, has also trapped tens of thousands of civilians.

 

“The situation is absolutely unsustainable and unacceptable for this population,” said Pablo Marco, regional head of Doctors Without Borders.

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