Iraqi soldiers and allied volunteer fighters have pushed towards Fallujah from areas to the south as part of an operation to liberate the city from the grip of the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group, says a commander.
Staff Major General Ismail al-Mahalawi, the head of the Anbar Operations Command, said on Wednesday that forces from Iraq’s 8th Division, backed by tribal fighters, set out from the city of Amriyat al-Fallujah, south of Fallujah, and the al-Salam intersection to its southwest.
The offensive is being supported by air cover, Mahalawi added.
Early on Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the long-awaited major operation to retake Fallujah in the western Anbar Province. Since then, the Iraqi military and volunteer fighters have managed to recapture several areas near the embattled city.
About 100,000 civilians are estimated to be in Fallujah which, in January 2014, became the first major Iraqi city to be captured by Daesh militants.
Top Iraqi cleric urges restraint in Fallujah raid
In another development on Wednesday, Iraq’s senior Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani urged restraint in the Fallujah battle, calling on the Iraqi forces to spare civilians trapped in the city.
The prominent Iraqi clergyman’s representative, Sheikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai, said in a statement that Ayatollah Sistani has reaffirmed his recommendations that moral principles be respected in the operation launched to liberate the city.
“Don’t be extreme … don’t be treacherous. Don’t kill an old man, nor a boy, nor a woman. Don’t cut a tree unless you have to,” he said, citing sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
The operation to recapture Fallujah comes as aid agencies have expressed concern over the humanitarian situation in 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.
Earlier this month, Iraq’s government spokesman, Saad al-Hadithi, said the Daesh-controlled areas in the conflict-ridden country have significantly decreased to only 14 percent, compared to almost triple that number recorded two years ago.