The city of Fallujah has been “fully liberated” from Islamic State militants on Sunday, after a more than month-long military operation a senior Iraqi commander said.
Iraqi troops have entered the northwestern al-Julan neighborhood, the last area of Fallujah to remain under IS control, the head of the counter-terrorism forces in the operation, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, told AP.
Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi said the operation, which began in late May, “is done and the city is fully liberated.” The U.S.-led airstrikes helped the Iraqi army and paramilitary troops mostly Shiite militias.
“From the center of al-Julan neighborhood, we congratulate the Iraqi people and the commander in chief…and declare that the Fallujah fight is over,” he told Iraqi state TV, flanked by military officers and soldiers. Some of the soldiers were waving the Iraqi flag, shooting in the air and chanting.
He added that troops will start working on removing bombs from the city’s streets and buildings.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory in Fallujah over a week ago, after Iraqi forces advanced into the city center and took control of a government complex.
He pledged that remaining pockets of IS fighters would be cleared out within hours, but fierce clashes on the city’s northern and western edges persisted for days.
According to the U.N. refugee agency, more than 85,000 people have fled Fallujah and the surrounding area since the offensive began. The UNHCR and others have warned of dire conditions in the camps — where temperatures are well over 40 degrees Celsius and shelter is limited — and have called for more funds to meet mounting needs.
Fallujah, which is located about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, was the first city to fall to IS, in January 2014.
Fallujah was also a stronghold of Sunni insurgents following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. More than 100 American soldiers died and hundreds more were wounded in intense, house-by-house fighting in Fallujah in 2004.
IS extremists still control significant areas in northern and western Iraq, including the country’s second-largest city, Mosul. The group declared an Islamic caliphate on the territory it holds in Iraq and Syria and at the height of its power was estimated to hold nearly a third of each country.