BAGHDAD – A senior Iraqi commander declared that the city of Fallujah was “fully liberated” from Islamic State group militants on Sunday, after a more than monthlong military operation.
Iraqi troops have entered the northwestern al-Julan neighborhood, the last area of Fallujah to remain under IS control, the head of the counterterrorism forces in the operation, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, told The Associated Press.
Al-Saadi said the operation, which began late May, “is done and the city is fully liberated.” The Iraqi army was backed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and paramilitary troops, mostly Shiite militias.
“From the center of al-Julan neighborhood, we congratulate the Iraqi people and the commander in chief…and declare that the Fallujah fight is over,” he told Iraqi state TV, flanked by military officers and soldiers. Some of the soldiers were shooting in the air, chanting and waving the Iraqi flag.
Fallujah has been under the control of Islamic State militants since January 2014.
Fallujah, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, was the first city to fall to IS in January 2014. During an insurgency waged by IS group’s militant predecessor, al-Qaida in Iraq, Fallujah was the scene of some of the bloodiest urban combat with American forces. In 2004, more than 100 U.S. troops died and another 1,000 were wounded fighting insurgents in house-to-house battles.
IS extremists still control significant areas in northern and western Iraq, including the country’s second-largest city of Mosul. The group declared an Islamic caliphate on the territory it holds in Iraq and Syria and at the height of its power was estimated to hold nearly a third of each country.