The Shiite militia movement in Iraq known as Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Units, has launched an attack to retake Fallujah from the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), prompting the jihadist group to declare a state of emergency inside the city, Rudaw reports, quoting an Iraqi military source.
“We’ll take control of Fallujah very soon, the attack won’t last long,” said Ahmed al-Asadi, a Hashd al-Shaabi spokesperson.
Fallujah, the first major Iraqi city to fall to ISIS last year, is located in Sunni-dominated Anbar, Iraq’s largest province.
Former Iraqi government employees inside Fallujah promised to assist the militia movement, according to Asadi.
He accused ISIS jihadists of rigging mosques and houses with bombs.
In mid-June, Hashd al-Shaabi reportedly boasted that it had 100,000 fighters within its ranks.
“Volunteers who joined the group are mostly students and workers. They followed the Shiite leader’s public call to fight ISIS and they joined,” said Moein al-Kazemi, a member of Hashd al-Shaabi’s leadership committee.
Iraqi forces and Shiite militia troops launched an offensive on Monday to drive ISIS out of Anbar.
“A spokesman for the joint operations command said the campaign, which began at dawn, brought together the army, mainly Shi’ite Hashid Shaabi militias, special forces, police and local Sunni Muslim tribal fighters,” reported Reuters.
“Military sources in Anbar said they met heavy resistance from the insurgents, who deployed five suicide car bombs and fired rockets to repel their advance on the city of Fallujah, about 50 km (30 miles) west of Baghdad,” it added. “Iraqi forces also pushed towards the provincial capital, Ramadi, from the west and the south, police sources in the province said. Islamic State supporters said those advances were repelled by the militants.”
A U.S.-led coalition has been launching airstrikes against ISIS targets across Iraq, supporting Iraqi ground forces.
“On Sunday, it sharply stepped up air strikes around Ramadi [in Anbar], with 29 out of 39 missions in Iraq targeting Islamic State positions near the city,” noted Reuters.
Some Shiite militias fighting ISIS in Iraq have been linked to Iran.
“The Iranian-backed militias say that [U.S.-led] coalition assistance only hurts their efforts, contradicting statements by the Iraqi government that more international support is needed,” reported The Associated Press (AP) last month.