Civilians flee as Iraqi army begins its attack on Fallujah
Iraqi troops and local militias were on the outskirts of Fallujah last night as the long-awaited assault on Isil jihadists holding the city began.
Residents of nearby western Baghdad and the United Nations high commission for refugees reported that scores of Fallujah families had managed to escape the city, responding to warnings from the prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, to leave.
The assault was supported by an advance bombardment, including aerial bombing. The US-led coalition said it had struck 21 targets in and around the city in the last week, including three on Sunday.
The city has been suffering from the effects of siege for months, with residents starving and dying from lack of medicine. Many Iraqi politicians, especially those from predominantly Sunni Muslim Anbar province, are fearful of what will remain after yet another assault on a city that has become a byword for Islamist militancy. It suffered two battles in 2004 as American forces sought to seize it back from some of the same insurgent forces that went on to form Isil. The destruction embittered parts of the community for years to come.
Mr Abadi visited the forward operating command post yesterday morning, dressed in black fatigues.
He issued a warning to Isil. "Zero hour for the liberation of Fallujah has arrived. The moment of great victory has drawn near and Daesh has no choice but to flee," he said, using an Arabic name for Isil.
On Sunday, he had warned the remaining residents, said to number in their tens of thousands, to leave while they could, or to post white flags on their roofs. Isil had been trying to prevent an exodus with threats of force, after putting down opposition from local tribes earlier in the year. (© Daily Telegraph, London)