Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi urged all Iraqis to celebrate the recapture of Fallujah Sunday by the security forces and vowed the national flag would be raised in Mosul soon.
“I call on all Iraqis wherever they are to get out and celebrate,” he told Iraqiya state television, standing in front of Fallujah hospital with an Iraqi flag around his neck.
“We will raise the Iraqi flag in Mosul soon,” he said, referring to Iraq’s second city, which is the Islamic State group’s last remaining major hub following the retaking of Fallujah.
The commander of Iraqi forces that retook Fallujah from the Islamic State group told AFP that the operation had been carried out with limited damage to the city.
“The percentage of destruction in Fallujah is no more than 10 percent and is spread across all neighbourhoods of the city,” said Lieutenant General Abdelwahab al-Saadi.
Saadi and other commanders on Sunday announced that Fallujah had been brought under full control of the security forces after they retook IS’s last positions in the Jolan neighbourhood.
The recapture of Fallujah, bar a few remaining pockets of IS fighters, brings to a close a broad offensive launched more than a month ago on one of the militants’ most emblematic bastions.
“This battle was the cleanest urban battle in the whole of Iraq,” Saadi told Iraqiya state television. “The level of damage in Fallujah caused by military operations and by the terrorists is between 10 and 15 percent,” Mohammed Yassin, a member of the Anbar provincial council, told AFP.
Southern neighbourhoods appeared to have suffered most as elite forces first breached IS defences around the city from the south.
The militants put up less resistance than expected once they were cornered in northern neighbourhoods. While many of the city’s buildings bore the scars of war, most were still standing.
The US-led coalition offered some aerial assistance during the Fallujah operation but was less involved than six months ago during the offensive to retake Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province in which Fallujah is also located.
In Ramadi, the United Nations said that the destruction — which some Iraqi government officials have estimated at 80 percent — was worse than anywhere else in Iraq.
More than 80,000 civilians were forced to flee Fallujah during the operation and limited damage to the city would offer some hope they can return to their homes faster than Ramadi residents.
“It is still too early to speak of returns for the tens of thousands of civilians who fled from Fallujah,” said Nasr Muflahi, Iraq director at the Norwegian Refugee Council.
“We urge prudence and restraint in the communications with the displaced families as we have seen how, elsewhere, areas recaptured by Iraqi forces are still unsafe,” he said.
Muflahi said a thorough mine-clearing operation needed to be undertaken to determine which areas were safe. When it retreats from an area, IS systematically rigs homes with booby traps and plants roadside bombs.