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6/17/16

Middle East: Iraq forces retake Fallujah, facing little resistance from Daesh = by Tim Arango

After weeks of fighting, Iraqi forces have entered central areas of Fallujah, facing little resistance by the Islamic State, as thousands of civilians fled in a new wave of displacement that has overwhelmed the ability of aid agencies to care for them.

Counter-terrorism forces raised the Iraqi flag over the main government building in central Fallujah, about 65 kilometres west of Baghdad, and they moved on to besiege the city's main hospital, which was the first target of American forces when they invaded the city in 2004, according to officers and news reports on state television.

The rapid, and unexpected, gains suggested a shift in tactics by the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State, or perhaps a sign of their weakness, as they abandoned their dug-in positions and regrouped in western neighbourhoods. That allowed thousands of civilians, which aid groups had said were being held as human shields, to flee across two bridges over the Euphrates River beginning on Thursday.

Even as the battle appeared far from over, Iraqi commanders on the ground were optimistic that the advance, which had slowed in the face of Islamic State snipers, roadside bombs and tunnel networks that allowed fighters to move around undetected, would continue.

"ISIS has lost its power to defend Fallujah," Colonel Jamal Lateef, a police commander in Anbar Province, said in an interview. "Its defensive lines have collapsed, and the battle of Fallujah will be over in no time."

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