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Iraq Launches Operation To Retake Fallujah From IS

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has announced the launch of military operations to retake Fallujah from Islamic State militants.

In a televised address late on May 22, Abadi said Iraqi forces are "approaching a moment of great victory" against Islamic State. Fallujah is about 65 kilometers west of Baghdad.

He said the offensive would be conducted by the army, police, counterterrorism forces, local tribal fighters and a coalition of mostly Shi'ite Muslim militias.

A U.S.-led coalition that has bombed Islamic State in Iraq and neighboring Syria for nearly two years was expected to provide air support.

Fallujah, a longtime bastion of Sunni Muslim militants, 50 kilometers west of Baghdad, was the first city to fall to Islamic State in January 2014.

The Iraqi army, police and the militias, backed by coalition air strikes, have surrounded Fallujah since late last year, while the jihadists have been preventing residents from leaving for months.

Families who cannot flee should raise white flags to mark their location in the city, the military's media unit said in a statement on state television.

Deputy District Council Chairman Falih al-Essawi said three corridors would be opened for civilians to camps west, southwest and southeast of the city.

Essawi told local media on May 22 that more than 75,000 civilians remained in Fallujah. About 300,000 people lived in the Euphrates River city before the war.

Saad al-Hadithi, a spokesman for Abadi, said the city's "liberation" would help restore normal life to Anbar province, over which Islamic State took nearly complete control in 2014.

The announcements follows territorial gains elsewhere by Iraqi ground troops against IS, most recently the capture of the western town of Rutba, located 380 kilometers west of Baghdad, on the edge of Anbar Province.

IS still controls significant patches of Iraqi territory in the country's north and west including the country's second largest city of Mosul.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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