Iraqi government forces have gained control over the majority of Fallujah, according to Prime Minister al-Abadi. Although he announced the city's "liberation," the US said there is still more fighting to be done.
After almost four-weeks of fighting, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said government forces have retaken most of the city from the so-called "Islamic State" (IS).
In a televised address, al-Abadi said Fallujah,the western city that fell under IS control in 2014,
had been "liberated."
"Our troops are in control of the city and have tightened their grip on its center," al-Abadi said. "We promised to liberate Fallujah, and it has returned to the embrace of the nation."
Al-Abadi, however, added that there are still "some pockets" that need "to be cleansed" from militants.
The United States was more cautious with any statements of victory on Friday, with US Defense Secretary Ash Carter saying Iraqi forces retook "a portion" of Fallujah.
"There's still some fighting to be done," Carter told reporters at the Pentagon.
The overall commander of the operation, Lt. Gen. Abdulwahab al-Saadi, said, "Iraqi forces have now liberated 70 percent of the city."
Another commanding official, Brig. Haidar al-Obeidi told the Associated Press that the troops are in control of 80 percent of the city, with IS fighters remaining in several of the city's northern districts.On Friday morning,
US-backed Iraqi forces raised the national flag over Fallujah's main government compound in the center of the city, signaling a breakthrough in the offensive. The troops also retook a hospital.
Thousands flee Fallujah
In a sudden turnaround, IS militants began allowing civilians trapped in central Fallujah to flee the city - overwhelming displacement camps already stretched thin for supplies.
Over 6,000 families left on Thursday alone, according to Fallujah Mayor Issa al-Issawi.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), which has been providing aid to displaced people, said escapees reported a sudden retreat of IS fighters at key checkpoints inside Fallujah that had allowed civilians to leave.
"Aid services in the camps were already overstretched and this development will push us all to the limit," said NRC country director Nasr Muflahi.
Islamic State has been using civilians as human shields to slow the Iraqi military's advance and to try and avoid air strikes.
There were an estimated 50,000 people living in Fallujah when the operation began on May 23, butit is unclear how many remain in the city.
rs/sms (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)