May 24, 2016 - 11:18 AMT
Iraq’s PM hails “big success” following launch of Fallujah offensive

Iraq's prime minister hailed "big successes" Monday, May 23 by government troops after launching an offensive to retake Fallujah from Islamic State militants, but the operation promises to be one of the toughest challenges yet for the country's struggling security forces, the Associated Press reports.

Troops recaptured some agricultural areas in Garma, a district along the northeastern edge of Fallujah, under intensified Iraqi airstrikes and heavy artillery, said Col. Mahmoud al-Mardhi, who leads Shiite militia forces in the operation.

The U.S.-led coalition carried out two airstrikes, the Pentagon said, part of an aerial campaign that has seen an average of two bombings a day over the past week in the city about 65 kilometers west of Baghdad.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi toured the Fallujah front line dressed in the all- black fatigues of Iraq's elite counterterrorism forces, saying the troops had achieved "more than what was planned for," and "big successes," but he did not elaborate, AP says.

He had triumphantly announced the start of the operation in a televised address late Sunday night, flanked by senior military commanders. The city has been under the control of Islamic State militants since January 2014.

"The Iraqi flag will be raised high over the land of Fallujah," he vowed, saying it would be taken back from those who "kidnapped" it.