An American commander is contradicting the claim by Iraqi military leaders that the city of Fallujah has been “liberated” from the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/IS), claiming, instead, that only one-third of the city has been cleared of an ISIS presence, and the rest is littered with traps and bombs for incoming soldiers.
Coalition spokesman U.S. Army Col. Christopher Garver told reporters that Iraqi forces had only liberated a third of Fallujah, with the rest the scene of an ongoing battle for turf, what Garver deemed “contested” territory. “Clearing operations continue outward from the city center,” he noted, adding that the third of the city out of Islamic State hands is mostly in the south.
The BBC notes that Iraqi officials claimed that 80 percent of the city was under Baghdad’s control, not a mere 33 percent. In a rousing victory speech last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi claimed that the city had “returned to the embrace of the nation” and that it would be “hours” before the Islamic State was fully removed from Fallujah. The governor of Anbar province, where Fallujah is located, also asserted the liberation of the city. In Baghdad, Iraqis lit up fireworks and danced on the streets in celebration of the “liberation” of the city, the first in the nation to be captured by the terrorist group.
In response to Iraqi claims to victory in Fallujah, the United States offered congratulations. Brett McGurk, President Barack Obama’s special envoy for the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, congratulated the Iraqi government on the military operation.
The liberation operation features Iraqi troops alongside coalition advisers and members of Iran-backed Shiite militias, which has caused some alarm as Shiite militias have vowed to attack any American soldiers present in helping fight the Islamic State and have a history of attacking and killing Sunni civilians. Earlier this month, when liberation operations began, reports surfaced that Shiite fighters had captured and tortured “hundreds” of civilians attempting to flee Fallujah, all believed to be Sunni Muslims. The reports came from medical staff inside the city, who reported seeing bodies “broken” by torture.
The Iraqi military claimed in a statement that they have killed 2,500 Islamic State jihadis, though the BBC notes that this number could not be corroborated by any other source.
Iraqi troops were rapidly forced to change their reports on the ground, however, with reports surfacing Monday that Islamic State jihadis remained in the city and were fighting back. “Iraqi forces battled Islamic State militants in pockets of Fallujah on Monday. … They are closing in on the remaining IS strongholds but … their progress has been slowed by snipers hiding in residential buildings,” the Associated Press reported that day.
On Monday, however, reports still put the total land under Iraqi control at about half the city, much more than the estimate put out by the American military. According to a reporter for Rudaw, a Kurdish outlet, the entire southern half of Fallujah had been liberated by Monday. The reporter noted, thoug, that much of the area believed to be “liberated” was “wired with bombs,” according to Iraqi commander Lieutenant General Abdul Wahab al-Saadi.