ISTANBUL: Iraqi forces hunted through Fallujah for jihadist holdouts yesterday (Saturday) as shocked and disorientated residents flooded into nearby aid camps.
The extremist group finally lost control of Fallujah on Friday as Iraqi special forces surged into the city centre, hoisting the national flag above a government compound, declaring victory in a campaign that had been expected to be long and hard.
The operation's commander, Lt Gen Abdulwahab al-Saadi, told AFP his troops had encircled Isil's remaining forces inside a cluster of northern neighbourhoods. In the south of the city, elite Iraqi forces went house to house in search of explosive devices.
Fallujah was the first major city in western Iraq to fall to Isil, and its loss now heralds a reversal in the terrorist group's fortunes as its so-called "caliphate" contracts by the month.
As its militants melted away, the exodus of terrified civilians began. Aid groups said most were arriving at the camps in shock, after walking for hours through scorching heat without food or water. Karl Schembri, of the Norwegian Refugee Council, speaking from a camp in Amiriyat al-Fallujah near the city, said it had been "overwhelmed" by 25,000 arrivals in two days. Thousands of families slept in the open on Friday in temperatures of 122F (50C).
"We have seen people arrive who I wonder how they made it," he said. "They are weak, malnourished and traumatised." He said they were having to reintroduce people to food slowly, after months of eating little but dates and animal feed and drinking river water contaminated by dead bodies.