Only a third of Fallujah has been “cleared” of ISIL insurgents, the U.S.-led coalition said Tuesday, days after the Iraqi government declared victory in the city west of Baghdad, which was held by the extremists for more than two years.
Other parts of the city are “contested,” said U.S. Army Col. Christopher Garver, the Baghdad-based spokesman for the coalition, with clashes underway between Iraqi forces and ISIL insurgents. Most of the cleared terrain is in the south of the city and “clearing operations continue outward from the city Centre,” Garver added.
Iraqi forces pushed into the Centre of Fallujah on Friday, retaking a government complex and the central hospital. That evening Brig. Gen. Haider al-Obedi, with Iraq’s Special Forces, told The Associated Press his troops controlled 80 per cent of the city.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said Friday that Fallujah had “returned to the embrace of the nation,” and that remaining ISIL pockets would be “cleaned out within hours.”
But in recent days there have been persistent clashes between Iraqi forces and ISIL insurgents holed up in dense residential neighborhoods along the city’s northern edge.
“What it looks like is ISIL defensive belt around the city with not as stiff defenses inside,” Garver said, explaining that as Iraqi forces move out from the city Centre they may encounter additional pockets of stiff resistance.
“That could be their toughest fighting,” Garver added.
Iraqi commanders on the ground say their forces continue to make progress and have killed hundreds of insurgents.