Reports say at least 130 Iraqi soldiers have been killed in a series of attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group near the city of Fallujah in Anbar province.
The first attack happened at dawn on Wednesday when 10 suicide bombers belonging to ISIL, also known as ISIS, hit the town of Kubaisah before storming the nearby village of Al Sejar, and then attacked an army convoy to the south of Fallujah at Amiriyat al-Fallujah with roadside bombs, military sources told Al Jazeera.
After more than a week of operations aimed at retaking Fallujah, which lies just 50km west of Baghdad, the Iraqi army – made up of the military, police and Shia units, and backed by air power from a US-led coalition – has been unable to reach the city centre.
The overall commander of the Fallujah operation, Lieutenant-General Abdelwahab al-Saadi, told Al Jazeera that while the Iraqi army had slowed its advance, it was still at the fringes of Fallujah.
“We are here in Naimiyah district and operations are ongoing, and the advance towards the centre of Fallujah is continuing too,” he said.
The Iraqi government has blamed ISIL for the slow progress by using human shields and preventing civilians from leaving the city.
“It would’ve been possible to end the battle quickly if protecting civilians wasn’t one of the foundations of our plan,” Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s prime minister, said in comments broadcast by state television.
Since the start of the operation on May 22-23, Iraqi commanders have claimed to have killed dozens of ISIL fighters but remain hesitant about releasing their own casualty figures.