Iraqi forces, Shia militia, outskirts of Fallujah

The Iraqi Finance Minister, Hoshiyar Zebari, said that “the Islamic State is putting up a tough fight in Falluja and its recapture by the Iraqi army would take time”.

Falluja, which is located 50 kilometers (32 miles) west of Baghdad, has been a bastion of the Sunni insurgency that fought both the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the Shi’ite-led Baghdad government.

Islamic State fighters raised their flag there in January 2014 before sweeping through much of Iraq’s north and west, declaring a caliphate several months later, from Mosul.

Falluja is a tough nut to crack,” he told newmen in an interview on Thursday evening. “Daesh are holding the population as hostages, not allowing them to escape, and they are putting up a tough fight there,” he added, referring to the militant group by one of its Arabic acronyms.

Nobody can give you a definitive time when Falluja will be cleared of Daesh. Mainly because of the resistance, because of the IEDs (improvised explosive devices), because of the tunnels, the militants have dug to move without being detected“, he added.

The army started the offensive on May 23, with the backing of Shi’ite militias known as Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and air support from the U.S.-led coalition.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Wednesday that “the army had slowed the pace of its offensive because of fears for the safety of tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the city with limited access to water, food and healthcare”.

The security forces, the PMF have made significant progress, but really to storm the center of Falluja I think will take time,” Al-Abadi said. “We should not declare victory prematurely.”

REUTERS/OMOLAYO ALABI