Iraqi forces take Fallujah government compound
Federal police raised the Iraqi flag above the town hall in central Fallujah on Friday, marking a significant step in the army's month-long offensive to take control of the city.
"The liberation of the government compound, which is the main landmark in the city, symbolizes the restoration of the state's authority" in Fallujah, Raed Shaker Jawdat, Iraq's federal police chief, said.
Fallujah is one of the last major "Islamic State" (IS) strongholds in western Iraq. The group took the city in 2014 when it overran large parts of the country, including Mosul, Iraq's second largest city in the far north.
Last month the Iraqi army, backed by US-led coalition airstrikes, launched a large-scale military assault to retake Fallujah. The city lies about an hour's drive west of Baghdad, and is seen as a strategic launching spot for IS bombing attacks in the capital.
Commander Haidar al-Obeidi of Iraq's special forces told The Associated Press that soldiers had entered the city at around 6 a.m. local time (0300 UTC) after intense clashes with militants. He said troops were battling sniper fire as they swept downtown streets for bombs and IS fighters.
"Iraqi forces are now in the center of the city. They had not been there since the beginning of 2014," al-Obeidi said.
More than 30,000 civilians are believed to have fled Fallujah since the military operation began in late May, but aid groups estimate around 50,000 people remain trapped inside the city.
nm/kl (AFP, Reuters, AP)