Iraqi Army Preparing to Retake IS-Held Falluja, Tells Residents to Leave

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -
Iraqi security forces backed by Shiite and Sunni pro-government fighters prepare to attack Islamic State positions in Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday. (AP Photo)
Iraqi security forces prepare to attack Islamic State positions in Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, Iraq, in this 2015 file photo. (AP Photo)

Iraq’s army said on Sunday it was preparing to retake the Islamic State stronghold of Falluja and asked residents to get ready to leave, state media reported.

Families who could not leave should raise white flags to mark their location in the city just west of Baghdad, the army’s media unit added, according to the media channel.

Falluja was the first Iraqi city to fall to the Islamic State terror group in January 2014, six months before the group that emerged from al-Qaida swept through large parts of Iraq and neighboring Syria.

The army “is asking the citizens that are still in Falluja to be prepared to leave the city through secured routes that will be announced later,” the channel said.

The city on the Euphrates river 32 miles west of the capital, had a pre-war population of around 300,000.

It is encircled by Iraqi forces and a coalition of Shiite militias known as Hashid Shaabi.

Falluja is a focus for Sunni Muslim faith and identity in Iraq. It was badly damaged in two offensives by U.S. forces against al-Qaida terrorists in 2004.