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Iraq takes full control of Fallujah from Islamic State, military says

BAGHDAD — The western Iraq city of Fallujah has been retaken by government forces after more than five weeks of fighting there against Islamic State, a senior Iraqi commander said Sunday.

The chief of counterterrorism forces in Fallujah, Abdel-Wahab al-Saadi, said government troops recaptured Fallujah’s northern district of al-Julan, the militants’ last stronghold in the city.

“We break to the Iraqi people the glad news that the military operations in Fallujah are over,” he said on state radio. “Fallujah has become fully liberated.”

Al-Saadi added that around 1,800 militants have been killed in Fullajah fighting since May 23 when the Iraqi forces, backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, started their offensive to retake the city.

He did not give figures about casualties among government forces.

Fallujah, around 30 miles east of the capital Baghdad, was the first Iraqi city to fall to Islamic State in early 2014. The al-Qaida splinter group seized more territory in the country in a lightning attack months later.

On June 17, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced victory over Islamic State in Fallujah. But fighting persisted inside the city.

The campaign to retake Fallujah from Islamic State forced many civilians to leave the city.

The Norwegian Refugee Council, an aid group, ruled out an imminent return of the displaced people.

“We just do not know which areas are safe and which aren’t,” said Nasr Muflahi, the group’s director in Iraq. “We need a thorough de-mining of civilian areas and safety assessments before civilians are given the option to go back.”

The Islamic State still controls areas in Iraq’s Sunni Arab north and west, including Mosul, the country’s second-largest city.