Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the beginning of military operations to retake the ISIS-held city of Fallujah in a televised address on Sunday night. Iraqi forces are "approaching a moment of great victory" against ISIS, said al-Abadi, who was surrounded by top military commanders from the Ministry of Defense and the country's elite counterterrorism forces. However, Iraqi forces are expected to face a complicated fight to push ISIS out of Fallujah, which is about 40 miles west of Baghdad and has been under the militants' control for more than two years, the AP reports. Asked about the Iraqi announcement on plans to retake Falliujah, the US State Department and the Pentagon did not immediately comment.
During the Iraq War, Fallujah was an insurgent stronghold—and the site of the war's bloodiest battle. In November 2004, US forces led a coalition attack against several thousand insurgents in Fallujah in which thousands of buildings were destroyed in house-to-house fighting. More than 80 US troops were killed along with an estimated 2,000 insurgents. Fallujah is still home to tens of thousands of civilians and has been under ISIS rule since January 2014, when it was the first city to fall to the group. Iraqi security forces repeated calls for civilians trapped inside Fallujah to flee on Sunday, but residents say that checkpoints controlled by the extremists along all roads leading out of the city are preventing most from fleeing.