The Iraqi Army on Friday took control of the main government compound in the Islamic State group-held Fallujah, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported, quoting top commanders. The commanders described the move as a massive step towards victory in the city.
The government troops have now surrounded a central hospital captured by the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, the Associated Press reported, quoting special forces commander Haidar al-Obeidi.
This comes about half-a-month after the Iraqi forces began assault against ISIS in Fallujah, about 69 km from Baghdad. The troops have gained control of at least 50 percent of the city, particularly in the south and east, according to AFP.
"The counter-terrorism service and the rapid response forces have retaken the government compound in the centre of Fallujah," Lieutenant General Abdulwahab al-Saadi, the commander of the operation in Fallujah, told AFP.
"This operation was done with little resistance from Daesh. There is a mass flight of Daesh to the west that explains this lack of resistance. There are only pockets of them left and we are hunting them down," Saadi said. Daesh is Arabic acronym for ISIS.
The security forces in Fallujah are unlikely to face further resistance from ISIS as many of its senior members have fled the city, security officials said. According to AFP, some of the ISIS fighters bribed the security forces to run out of the city.
"The top leaders are mostly gone and those left behind to defend the city are not their best fighters, which explains their performance," a security officer said on condition of anonymity.
Iraq's federal police chief Raed Shaker Jawdat also confirmed that the forces have taken control of the centre of the city. "The liberation of the government compound, which is the main landmark in the city, symbolises the restoration of the state's authority" in Fallujah, Jawdat said.
The Iraqi forces launched the offensive against ISIS on May 30 with the backing of Iran-backed Shia militia and international raids. They faced resistance from ISIS, which was using the residents of Fallujah as human shields.
On June 1, as many as 100 soldiers were killed when 10 ISIS suicide bombers targeted the Kubaisah town and the Al Sejar village, and attacked a convoy of the Iraqi Army at Amiriyat al-Fallujah, about 30 km south of Fallujah.
About 50,000 civilians were trapped inside the city when the government launched the offensive against ISIS. Since then, at least 42,000 people fled the city, the AP quoted the United Nations as saying. However, Doctors Without Borders and the Norwegian Refugee Council have said only around 30,000 people managed to flee to safer places.
ISIS, which targeted several parts of Syria and Iraq, had gained stronghold in two major cities of Iraq — Mosul and Fallujah. The Islamist militant group captured Fallujah in January 2014 and Mosul in June the same year.