Baghdad – Iraqi special forces recaptured on Friday the city of Fallujah, which had been under the control of the Islamic State (IS) since 2014.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi made the announcement after the government compound in the center of the city was taken by the Iraqi forces, raising the national flag over the municipal building.

The offensive began on May 22, and after nearly four weeks of fighting, Iraqi troops along air support from the U.S. military finally recovered control of the strategic city. Though they are still significant parts and neighborhoods missing, at least 70 percent of the city has been liberated, and the ISIS fighters are now concentrated in four districts on the northern edge of the city, according to Lieutenant General Abdulwahab al-Saadi.

Iraqi forces began their attack on Fallujah on May 22 assisted by US and coalition bombers and drones. Image courtesy of AFP/Getty Images

In February, an offensive launched by the Iraqi government called the Siege of Fallujah managed to besiege the city, known for being the first one of Iraq that ISIL invaded and conquered. After months of preparation, the operation was completed, and the so-called Fallujah offensive began. Battles took place all over the city, but on morning Friday, the military forces entered the city center. Fierce fighting took place the whole day, but by evening victory was claimed, and Iraqi forces achieved to push the terrorist group out of the territory.

While the humanitarian crisis grew during the extenuating fights, nearly 42,000 Fallujah residents have left the city since the military operation began. Since there were ISIL militants the ones that held the checkpoints to enter or exit the city during the past two years, the abandoned ones during the continuous days of clashes were seen as an opportunity to flee. But even escaping the city was problematic.

According to Fox News, while some of the civilians took the decision of swimming across the Euphrates River to reach safety, others took roads laced with hidden bombs, which have killed and wounded many. And even ISIL members have let the residents leave but under the condition of making the jihadis’ families go with them.

Fallujah was the largest territory under the control of ISIL. Now that government power has been restored to most of the territory, the next goal to achieve is to recapture the city of Mosul. This is where most of the ISIS fighters are located, and where it is believed that militants from Fallujah have escaped to. Discussions about this operation are being held between al-Abadi and General Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM). The offensive is expected to synchronize with an internal revolt that Mosul residents are planning against the insurgents, General Talib Shaghati Mshari al-Kenani told Reuters in an interview.

Regaining power over Fallujah represents a significant step for the governmental forces in the war against the Islamic State, because of the great extension and historical achieve the city represents. Now the operations in Mosul become essential since it is now the only major Iraqi city under ISIL’s control.

Source: Fox News