Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has announced that his troops had to slow down its advances against the Islamic State (Isis) in Fallujah fearing the plight of tens of thousands of people trapped in the city.
Since 23 May, US-backed Iraqi forces, along with Iran-backed Shia militia have been carrying out a massive military offensive that includes air strikes to liberate Fallujah from the grip of IS (Daesh) militants. However, they have been unable to reach the city centre as Fallujah has been a stronghold of the militant group.
Voicing concern over the safety of civilians in the area, the prime minister told commanders outside Fallujah: "It would have been possible to end the battle quickly if protecting civilians wasn't one of the foundations of our plan." His comments were broadcast by state television.
The AFP news agency reported thatthe prime minister's office was discussing "ways of rescuing the families being held hostage and opening safe corridors for them."
The UN has estimated around 50,000 families, including 20,000 children, are trapped inside Fallujah without any access to humanitarian aid. Many residents have been surviving on dates, animal feed, and dirty water from the Euphrates river. In addition, the Unicef has warned about the risk of forced recruitment by the extremists.
Besides, military commanders have said, fierce resistance from the IS militants have also led to their operation being stalled. Iraqi forces are currently stationed on the outskirts of Fallujah.
"Every time our forces try to push in, they encounter really tough defence systems set up by Daesh," a police colonel placed on the fringes of the city said.
The IS stormed the city of Fallujah – around 60km west of Baghdad – in January 2014, and within months proceeded to capture more areas in Iraq. This is said to be one of the biggest battles by the international allies fighting to get rid of the militants.
Conflicts have also escalated further up the Euphrates valley in Syria, as US-backed Kurds and Arab fighters opened a new offensive against the IS on the Manbij strip along the Turkey border.