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Why Iraq Has Started Its Offensive To Take Back ISIS-Held Fallujah

Kurdish forces are also attempting to take back the city of Mosul, while ISIS militants have stepped up suicide bombings across Iraq.

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Iraqi forces began a key push in the campaign to take back the ISIS-held city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, on Monday.

Uncredited / AP

The city has been under ISIS control for more than two years. The bid to take it back is being supported by paramilitary troops, and is receiving aerial assistance from the U.S.-led coalition. On Sunday, four airstrikes hit two ISIS tactical units near Fallujah, according to the coalition, destroying three vehicles and a tunnel entrance.

Fallujah is considered important to ISIS because it acts as a staging ground from where they plan and undertake attacks in Baghdad and Sadr City.

Earlier this month, Baghdad and Sadr City were hit by three bombs in the space of just a few hours, killing 80 people on the deadliest day the Iraqi capital had seen in a year.

If the recapturing of Fallujah is successful, ISIS will be pinned back towards the city of Mosul, which effectively acts as the capital of the territory the group has seized in Iraq. This would mean the Islamist group would have greater difficulty gaining more territory across the country.

It would also be a symbolic boost to the Iraqi government, as Fallujah was the first city to fall to ISIS.

There are an estimated 50,000 civilians trapped inside Fallujah, the BBC reported.

Uncredited / AP

There have also been reports of people starving to death, or being killed if they refuse to follow ISIS orders.

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Iraqi forces launched the offensive to retake the city a week ago, and have mostly been fighting ISIS on the outskirts.

On Sunday, Iraqi Major Dhia Thamir said government forces had recaptured 80% of the territory around Fallujah.

At dawn on Monday, Iraq's elite counterterrorism forces started pushing into Fallujah from its southern edge, Brigadier Haider al-Obeidi said.

Alaa Al-Marjani / Reuters

He described the clashes as "fierce," and said ISIS had deployed snipers and fired mortar rounds at the Iraqi forces.

Meanwhile, thousands of Kurdish Peshmerga troops are also battling to take the ISIS-held city of Mosul.

The Peshmerga-led ground offensive, backed by international coalition air support, launched early Sunday and aimed to retake several abandoned villages on the outskirts of the city, Rudaw reported.

Winning control of both Mosul and Fallujah back from ISIS is considered a key objective for forces fighting the extremist group in Iraq.

About 5,500 troops are involved in the operation to take back Mosul.

Safin Hamed / AFP / Getty Images

“ISIS is seeing our forces but we cannot see them because they hide inside civilian homes and in tunnels,” force spokesman Dilshad Mawlood told Rudaw.

"Other than taking the villages, the other goal is to push the ISIS threat further from the town of Khabat, and the third goal is to get closer to the final goal that is Mosul.”

ISIS has stepped up suicide bombing in Iraq in recent weeks in an attempt to distract security forces from the front lines.

Several bombings were reported on Monday in and around Baghdad, AP reported. At least 24 people are believed to have been killed in those attacks.

Alicia Melville-Smith is a homepage editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Alicia Melville-Smith at alicia.melville-smith@buzzfeed.com.

Francis Whittaker is a homepage editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Francis Whittaker at francis.whittaker@buzzfeed.com.

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