Iraqi security forces on Monday freed a town from Islamic State (IS) militants near the IS-held city of Fallujah in the country’s western province of Anbar, a provincial security source said.
Security forces, together with Shiite and Sunni paramilitary units, known as Hashd Shaabi, recaptured the town of Garma, just northeast of the militant-seized city of Fallujah, which itself located some 50 km west of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
The troops raised the Iraqi flag on a government building in the evening after fierce clashes during the day with the extremist militants who were forced to withdraw from the town, the source said.
At least 23 bodies of IS militants were left in the town, while five soldiers were killed and eight others wounded in the battles, the source added.
Immediately after the clashes, teams of explosive experts started defusing car bombs, booby-trapped buildings and dozens of roadside bombs planted by IS militants, he said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on Monday morning the launch of the offensive to claim Fallujah, during a time in which the country is struggling in a chaos to reshuffle the cabinet.
“The offensive aiming to free Fallujah has begun. Fallujah’s liberation alarm has rung, and the great victory is approaching, when IS militants will have no option except to flee,” Abadi said whilst addressing the nation on the state-run Iraqiya television channel.
“Fallujah will return to Iraqis similar to the hundreds of villages and towns which were returned to its people and were liberated from the IS’s oppression and treachery,” Abadi said.
After initial shelling on Fallujah and IS positions in other areas in the early morning, the troops covered by U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi aircrafts advanced toward the edges of Fallujah as well as the nearby small towns of Garma and Saqlawiyah.
During the past few months, security forces and allied Hashd Shaabi units carried out operations around Fallujah so as to tighten the troops’ grip on the besieged city and nearby small towns in order to free them from IS militants.
Government troops and allied militias have currently been fighting for months to reclaim key cities and towns in Anbar from IS militants, who attempted to advance towards Baghdad after seizing most of Anbar province.