(SOURCE) Iraqi forces battled the Islamic State group Monday in the opening stages of an operation to retake Fallujah, one of the toughest targets yet in Baghdad’s war against the jihadists.
As Iraqi forces struck targets in and around the jihadist bastion, which saw deadly battles in 2004 between insurgents and American forces, IS claimed bombings in neighbouring Syria that killed more than 120 people.
The jihadist group has increasingly turned to its traditional tactic of killing civilians in bombings as it faces battlefield losses, and spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani appeared to acknowledge in a recent statement that IS would probably lose more ground.
“In the early hours of the morning today, the heroic fighters advanced from different sides” to retake “all the areas occupied by (IS) around Fallujah”, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Monday in televised remarks.
Abadi said the operation was supposed to start earlier, but “political problems and also the events… threatening security inside Baghdad delayed some of the preparations”.
Iraq has been hit by a months-long political crisis that has paralysed the legislature, and demonstrators have twice broken into the fortified Green Zone area, storming parliament and Abadi’s office.
IS has also carried out a series of deadly attacks in and around Baghdad this month.
Iraqi forces had not yet entered the Anbar province city just 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Baghdad, but an AFP photographer near Fallujah said they were advancing as aircraft hit targets inside it.
IS, meanwhile, issued a statement claiming it had repelled “a wide attack” by Iraqi forces and destroyed multiple tanks and bulldozers.