Iraqi Prime Minister al-Abadi announced the launching of an offensive to retake the Islamic State group's stronghold of Fallujah. The military told residents on Sunday to get ready to leave before fighting started.
Fallujah was the first Iraqi city to fall to the Islamic State after foreign policy genius, Barack Obama, decided to pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq and not leave a residual force.
"Zero hour for the liberation of Falluja has arrived. The moment of great victory has drawn near and Daesh has no choice but to flee," Abadi said on his official Twitter feed, using an Arabic acronym for the jihadist group.
He said the offensive would be conducted by the army, police, counterterrorism forces, local tribal fighters and a coalition of mostly Shi'ite Muslim militias. A US-led coalition that has bombed ISIS in Iraq and neighbouring Syria for nearly two years was expected to provide air support
Falluja, a longtime bastion of Sunni Muslim jihadists, 30 miles west of Baghdad, was the first city to fall to the jihadists, in January 2014, six months before the group declared a caliphate spanning large parts of Iraq and Syria.
Iraqi officials said Shi'ite militias, including ones backed by neighbouring Iran, may be restricted to operating outside the city proper, as they were largely in the battle for Ramadi, to avoid aggravating sectarian tensions with Sunni residents.
The Iraqi army, police and the militias, backed by coalition air strikes, have surrounded Falluja since late last year, while the jihadists have been preventing residents from leaving for months