By Muayyad al-Tarfi
BAGHDAD (AA) - The presence of civilians in Fallujah, the largest city in the western Anbar province, represents a major challenge for Iraqi forces to storm the Daesh-held city, Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi said.
“The military forces are ready to break into Fallujah, but the presence of civilians represents a challenge [for the forces] to storm the city,” al-Obeidi told reporters on Sunday.
Last month, the Iraqi army, backed by U.S.-led coalition warplanes, staged a military offensive to retake Fallujah, which was captured by Daesh in early 2014.
So far, the Iraqi forces have managed to recapture al-Shuhada neighborhood in southern Fallujah from Daesh.
The Iraqi government justifies its slow advance into Fallujah by saying it fears for the safety of thousands of civilians trapped inside the city.
Located along the Euphrates River about 50 kilometers west of capital Baghdad, Fallujah is believed to be home to some 90,000 residents.
Meanwhile, al-Obeidi said that the Iraqi military was planning to stage new offensives against Daesh to the north of Tikrit and south of Mosul.
“We will open new fronts in the battle against Daesh,” the Iraqi minister said.
Iraq has suffered from a devastating security vacuum since mid-2014, when Daesh suddenly seized Mosul and overran large swathes of territory in the northern and western parts of the country.
According to the UN, more than 3.4 million people are displaced all over Iraq, more than half of them children, and more than 10 million people in the country need lifesaving humanitarian assistance.
*Anadolu Agency Correspondent Ali Abo Rezeg contributed to this story from Ankara.