Iraqi military forces looked ready to launch an offensive against Islamic State (Isis) stronghold Fallujah on Monday (30 May) in what is believed to be a 'new phase' of the fighting. The special forces built up troops around Fallujah ahead of an operation to recapture the city, which is located just 50km west of Baghdad.
This offensive on 29 May saw a fresh exodus of civilians from the city and its surrounding areas, as concerns mount for people who are trapped, Al Jazeera reported.
A week ago, the Iraqi government launched a large scale offensive with the help of US-led coalition and Shi'ite military troops. They have been focused largely on capturing the villages and rural areas surrounding Fallujah.
Abdelwahab al-Saadi, the overall commander of the operation told Agence France Presse that the paramilitary forces entered Falluja on 30 May (Monday) morning from three directions and surrounded it.
He added, "Iraqi forces entered Fallujah under air cover from the international coalition, the Iraqi air force and army aviation and supported by artillery and tanks. Counter-terrorism service (CTS) forces, the Anbar police and the Iraqi army, at around 4am (1am GMT), started moving into Fallujah from three directions."
Sabah Al- Narman, a spokesperson for CTS, told AFP "We started early this morning our operations to break into Fallujah."
Speaking to an Iraqi television channel, Hadi al-Ameri, a senior commander of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force said, "I won't tell you hours but the breach of Fallujah will happen very soon."
Only a few hundred managed to escape the Fallujah area while at least 50,000 people are believed to be trapped in the city proper. Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said that around 3,000 people have escaped the area since 21 May.
NRC's Iraq director Nasr Muflahi said in a statement, "Our resources in the camps are now very strained and with many more expected to flee we might not be able to provide enough drinking water for everyone. We expect bigger waves of displacement the fiercer the fighting gets."
On 29 May, the terrorist group faced pressure from Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in the east of their northern Iraq stronghold, Mosul. Turkish military said that at least 28 IS (Daesh) fighters were killed by them in Northern Aleppo on Sunday, CNN Turk reported.
Fallujah was the first city in Iraq that fell to IS (Daesh) in January 2014, six months after which they went on to establish a so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Mosul is the second major urban city that is an Islamic State stronghold.