Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has announced the slowdown of the massive military offensive to liberate Fallujah from the grip of the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group due to fears for the safety of civilians trapped in the city.
“It would have been possible to end the battle quickly if protecting civilians wasn’t among our priorities,” Abadi told military commanders at the operations room near the frontline in footage broadcast on state television on Wednesday.
He further noted that the Iraqi army units are stationed “at the outskirts of Fallujah and victory is within reach.”
Daesh overran Fallujah in the western Anbar Province in January 2014, six month before the terror group proceeded with its offensive, taking more areas in Iraq.
On May 23, the Iraqi military started a large-scale push to drive out the militants from Fallujah, located 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of the capital, Baghdad.
Iraqi commanders say they have killed dozens of Daesh elements since the beginning of the Fallujah liberation operation.
Fallujah is believed to be the base from which militants have staged a campaign of bombings in Baghdad.
Even though the majority of Fallujah’s population is believed to have fled during six months of siege, 50,000 people are still thought to be holed up with limited access to water, food or healthcare.
Earlier on Wednesday, the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said at least 20,000 children remain in Fallujah.
“We are concerned over the protection of children in the face of extreme violence,” representative of the UN children’s agency in Iraq, Peter Hawkins, said in a statement, adding, “Children face the risk of forced recruitment into the fighting” and “separation from their families” if they manage to escape the city.
Gruesome violence has plagued the northern and western parts of Iraq ever since Daesh launched an offensive in the Arab state two years ago.
The Iraqi military and volunteer fighters are engaged in joint military operations to win back militant-held regions.
The Iraqi military recaptured the city of Ramadi, Anbar’s provincial capital, in December 2015.