With the help of U.S.-led airstrikes, Iraqi troops wrested parts of the city of Fallujah from Islamic State in an operation that risks a hostage situation involving tens of thousands of civilians.

The Guardian reported Sunday:

The assault came on Monday after a week of preparations focused on encircling the city, which fell to Isis early in 2014, months before the jihadis announced the creation of a caliphate.

Backed by US-led coalition airstrikes, Iraqi commanders said elite counterterrorism forces had begun a multi-pronged assault aimed at reaching the city centre, and appeared to have taken three out of nine districts in the militant redoubt west of Baghdad.

AFP reported that Lt Gen Abdelwahab al-Saadi, the commander of the operation, said: “Iraqi forces entered Falluja under air cover from the international coalition, the Iraqi air force and army aviation, and supported by artillery and tanks.” …

Falluja was a key hotbed in the insurgency that raged in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and saw two separate large-scale offensives by the US military in 2004 that destroyed much of the city.

This time, an estimated 50,000 civilians remain trapped and besieged, facing starvation. At the weekend, a local police chief told the media that Isis had been using residents of villages on the outskirts of the city as human shields, raising fears that the militant group could do the same again to slow the Iraqi military’s offensive.

The UN high commissioner for refugees said 800 civilians had so far fled Falluja, often travelling on foot and escaping through disused irrigation pipes. Those in the city have had little access to food and clean water since roads into the jihadi stronghold were cut off in December last year.

Several people, including women and children, died trying to escape, the UNHCR said. It added that there had been reports of a big increase in the number of executions of men and older boys in Falluja refusing to fight for Isis. Other reports said a number of people attempting to depart had been executed or whipped, and one man’s leg was reportedly amputated. The Guardian has not been able to verify the reports independently.

Continue reading.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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