Iraqi forces celebrated on Sunday as they took control of the last district in Fallujah that remained in the hands of the Islamic State five weeks after the launch of a military offensive to recapture the key city that is 40 miles from Baghdad. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi gave a televised speech from Fallujah to celebrate the victory, making it clear the next target was Mosul, which is the last big city controlled by ISIS. “This Iraqi flag is flying in Fallujah,” he said. “God willing, soon it will be flying in Mosul.”
A spokesman for the U.S.-led military coalition fighting against ISIS seemed to suggest that there was still a bit of fighting left to take full control of the city. “Iraqi military leaders have announced the full liberation of Fallujah today,” said Col. Christopher Garver. “The coalition continues to provide support through strikes, intelligence, and advice and assistance to the Iraqi Security Forces operating in Fallujah and will continue to do so through deliberate clearing operations.”
Although more than 85,000 people were forced to flee Fallujah as the fighting intensified, Iraqi officials are optimistic civilians will be able to move back quickly because the city is very much intact. Defense Minister Khalid Al-Obeidi said on Twitter that around 90 percent of Fallujah “is safe & habitable,” comparing the situation with two other cities that were largely leveled before troops recaptured them.
Humanitarian workers warned, however, there would be much work ahead before civilians could return. Civilians are likely to remain in refugee camps “for some time as [Fallujah] is reported to be littered with IEDs,” said the local representative of the U.N. refugee agency.