Iraq's prime minister has announced the start of military operations to recapture the city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, after two years. Militants have held onto the city despite months of a government siege.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of an offensive to retake the city of Fallujah from "Islamic State" (IS) militants. In a televised address late on Sunday night, Abadi promised that Iraqi forces were "approaching a moment of great victory."
"Our goal is to liberate civilians from Daesh's repression and terrorism," Abadi said, using an Arabic synonym for the IS group.
Earlier on Sunday, the military had warned residents to prepare to leave the city before fighting begins. Those who were not able to were urged to raise white flags outside their homes. Local officials said three special routes would be in place for civilians to flee.
The military later confirmed that some families had already made their way out of Fallujah.
IS has controlled the city for nearly two years. The jihadists have held onto power despite being surrounded by the Iraqi army, local militias, and police - all supported by US-led coalition airstrikes.
As was the case with the battle of Ramadi, the situation remains delicate due to the Iraqi government's wish to avoid provoking sectarian tensions by having Shiite militias attack what could be Sunni areas of the city.
Human Rights Watch warned last month that residents of Fallujah were facing dire shortages of food and medicine due to IS resistance to the government siege. Local authorities said on Sunday that around 75,000 civilians remained trapped in the city, which was once home to around 300,000.
es/jm (dpa, Reuters)