Meanwhile, families who are unable to leave Fallujah were told to put up white flags to mark their locations, hopefully to keep the fighting away from more densely populated areas and keep civilian casualties to a minimum.
The Iraqi forces taking part in the operation are composed of the Iraqi military, counter-terrorism forces, police, tribal fighters, and Iran-backed Shiite militias. They also have support courtesy of airstrikes from a US-led coalition. Fallujah is one of the last remaining major territories in Iraq being held by ISIS.
The Sunni extremist group had already lost control of Ramadi on December 2015, which effectively cut off the supply lines between it and Fallujah, and then lost control of Rutbah on May 19. They also lost the historical Syrian city of Palmyra on late March, as reported here in The Inquisitr. These and many other losses on the battlefield highlight ISIS' loosening grip on Iraq.
"We've talked to the government many, many times about making a safe passage for the people to come out," said Eissa al-Issawi.
Fallujah had been under siege by Iraqi forces since late 2015 to weaken the ISIS stronghold before launching an invasion. They have set up blockades to control traffic going in out of the city, limiting the influx of food, medicine, and other supplies. This has had a tragic cost on the civilian population, resulting in deaths due to starvation. ISIS had prevented civilians from leaving, keeping them from seeking aid and safety outside Fallujah.
"They want to use them as human shields," said Raji Barakat, Anbar provincial council member. Anbar is the province where Fallujah is located.
"Zero hour for the liberation of Fallujah has arrived. The moment of great victory has drawn near and ISIS has no choice but to flee," he said during the announcement on live television.
According to sources, there are still 60,000 to 90,000 civilians still in the city, which has been under ISIS control for over two years now. The situation has become even more desperate as battle between the ISIS occupiers and Iraqi forces draws near. Fallujah once had a population of more than 300,000, but years of bloodshed during the US-led Iraq war followed by the ISIS occupation has scarred the city for the long term.
[Photo via AP Photo/Anmar Khalil]