Elite Iraqi troops were poised Sunday to assault one of the Daesh group’s most emblematic bastions, Fallujah, as the jihadists counterattacked in both Iraq and neighboring Syria.
The fighting prompted a new exodus of thousands of desperate civilians and deep concern for the many more trapped in the battlegrounds.
The overall commander of the Fallujah operation, Abdelwahab Al-Saadi, said Saturday it was a matter of hours before the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) entered the city. The week-old operation has so far focused on retaking villages and rural areas around the city, which lies only 50 kilometers west of Baghdad.
“I won’t tell you hours but the breach of Fallujah will happen very soon,” Hadi Al-Ameri, a senior commander in the Hashed Al-Shaabi paramilitary force, told Iraqi television.
CTS’s involvement will mark the beginning of a phase of urban combat in Fallujah, a city where US forces in 2004 fought some of their toughest battles since the Vietnam War.
The jihadists were also under pressure from Kurdish fighters east of their northern Iraqi stronghold Mosul and from US-backed Kurdish-led fighters in Syria.
Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region announced Sunday the launch of a pre-dawn offensive involving 5,500 peshmerga fighters to retake an area on the road between its capital Irbil and Mosul.