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Iraq Declares Battle For Fallujah Over As PM Urges Celebrations


A member of the Iraqi counterterrorism forces stands by an Islamic State weapons factory in Fallujah on June 23.
A member of the Iraqi counterterrorism forces stands by an Islamic State weapons factory in Fallujah on June 23.

Iraqi forces have recaptured the last remaining district held by Islamic State (IS) militants in the city of Fallujah, where Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi arrived on June 26 and urged citizens to rejoice.

"I call on all Iraqis, wherever they are, to get out and celebrate," Abadi told state television while standing in front of a Fallujah hospital with an Iraqi flag draped around his neck.

Abadi added that "we will raise the Iraqi flag in Mosul soon," a reference to Iraq’s second-largest city and the last remaining major IS hub following the recapture of Fallujah.

Abadi arrived in the city hours after the general commanding the operation declared the battle for the city over after nearly five weeks of fighting.

"We announce from this place in central Golan district that it has been cleaned by the counterterrorism service, and we convey the good news to the Iraqi people that the battle of Fallujah is over," Lieutenant General Abdul Wahab al-Saidi told state TV.

He said that at least 1,800 militants were killed in the operation to retake Fallujah, part of a broader offensive by Iraqi forces against IS fighters, who captured large swathes of territory in Iraq two years ago.

The Iraqi Army was backed in the operation by U.S.-led coalition air strikes and paramilitary troops, mostly Shi'ite militias.

Abide had claimed victory over IS forces in Fallujah more than a week ago, but fighting continued inside the city, including in the Golan district.

Fallujah had been under the control of the militant group since January 2014.

IS fighters still control significant areas in northern and western Iraq, including the country's second-largest city, Mosul.

Iraqi Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi wrote on Twitter on June 26 that some 90 percent of Fallujah remained "safe and habitable."

Thousands of families have fled Fallujah since Iraqi forces launched an operation to recapture the city in late May, leaving the government and aid groups struggling to manage the surge of people in camps for the displaced.

The UN's refugee agency says that more than 85,000 people have fled the city and the surrounding area since the operation began. It has warned of the distressing condition in the camps and called for increased funding for efforts to assist the displaced.

One of the key aid groups involved in these efforts, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), warned that the crisis was dire.

"With every day that passes in the camps, the conditions for some of the most vulnerable keep deteriorating. Doctors are warning of impending disaster," the group's Iraq director, Nasr Muflahi, said on June 25.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP

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