An Iranian-backed Shiite Iraqi militia said Saturday it planned to storm Fallujah, Islamic State group’s stronghold near Baghdad, once civilians leave the city, backtracking on earlier statements that it would leave this task to the Iraqi army.
“We will not enter Fallujah as long as there are families inside,” said Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Organization, the largest component of the Shiite paramilitary coalition known as Hashid Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization.
“Of course, we will go in and rid the city from the evil of this cancerous gland, with nobody preventing us,” he said, when asked what would happen if civilians managed to flee the Sunni city that lies 50 km (32 miles) west of Baghdad.
Fallujah is the first Iraqi city that Islamic State terrorist organization captured, in January 2014, and the second largest still under its control after Mosul in the north. Sunni politicians have voiced concern that the presence of Shiite militias alongside the army in the battle to retake the city could lead to sectarian violence.
Amiri was speaking to reporters while touring one of the frontlines near Fallujah. Last week he said the militias would take part in encirclement operations but leave the army to storm the city.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Wednesday the offensive to dislodge the ultra-hard-line Sunni militants had slowed to protect civilians. About 50,000 are trapped in the city, with limited access to water, food and healthcare, according to the United Nations.
Fallujah is a historic bastion of the insurgency against the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the Shiite-led authorities who took over after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, in 2003.