Middle East

IS conflict: Iraqi troops push into northern Falluja

Iraqi military vehicle near mosque in Falluja (20 June 2016) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Iraqi forces, led by elite counter-terrorism forces, are seeking to clear the remaining militants

Iraqi government forces are reportedly pushing into northern areas of Falluja, after clearing Islamic State (IS) militants out of the city centre.

A security source said they had retaken the Askari and Dhubbat al-Thaniya districts and were advancing eastwards.

Iraq's prime minister announced Falluja's "liberation" on Friday, after the city council building was retaken.

Meanwhile, aid workers have warned a humanitarian crisis is unfolding around the city amid a civilian exodus.

More than 83,000 people have fled Falluja since the government launched the assault to retake it, and up to 25,000 more are likely on the move, according to the UN.

The Norwegian Refugee Council said reception camps for the displaced were overwhelmed, and that there was insufficient water, food, shelter and medical care.

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Falluja, only 50km (30 miles) west of the capital Baghdad, has been held by IS for longer than any other city in Iraq or Syria.

The jihadist group overran the predominantly Sunni Arab city in January 2014, six months before it seized control of large parts of northern and western Iraq.

Four weeks ago, government forces launched an offensive to recapture city, backed by US-led coalition air strikes.

On Friday, elite Counter-Terrorism Service forces, soldiers and police moved into the city centre from the south and east, as IS defences collapsed abruptly.

By Monday, CTS-led troops had pushed north of Highway 10, the main east-west road running through the city, and regained control of the north-eastern districts of Askari and Dhubbat al-Thaniya, the security source told the BBC.

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Media captionTroops symbolically raised Iraq's flag over a Falluja government compound

Coalition air strikes had targeted IS sniper positions and destroyed a number of car bombs planted, the source added.

Government forces next planned to clear the neighbouring areas of Shurta and Jughaifi, before targeting the north-west of the city.

An Iraqi military commander told the Associated Press news agency that the militants were holed up in buildings and that he hoped to clear them out in the coming days.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Iraq's prime minister declared victory in Falluja on Friday after forces recaptured most of the city
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Aid workers says the civilian exodus has overwhelmed camps for displaced people

Brig Gen Haider al-Obeidi said most of the remaining militants were foreigners who were not able to hide among residents or sneak into other parts of the country.

The rapid advance has led to almost 10,000 families fleeing Falluja since Friday.

The surge has overwhelmed the already overcrowded camps for displaced people outside the city, where emergency supplies are running dangerously low.

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Media captionThe BBC's Alan Johnston reports: "Tens of thousands of Falluja's people have come to camps"

"A lot of them have no tents. They've slept another night out, out there in the open and they will spend another day without any shelter, without any shade in up to 50C (122F) in the middle of sandstorms, which are a daily occurrence here, and they are extremely vulnerable," said Karl Schembri of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

"I've seen women, pregnant women, children who are still out there and they're begging for our help," he added. "We need funding released now because this aid is essential. It is life-saving."

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