Iraqi Forces Defeat Islamic State In Fallujah NPR's Kelly McEvers speaks with Loveday Morris, Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post, about the latest on the offensive by Iraqi forces in Fallujah.
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Iraqi Forces Defeat Islamic State In Fallujah

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Iraqi Forces Defeat Islamic State In Fallujah

Iraqi Forces Defeat Islamic State In Fallujah

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Iraqi forces say they have defeated ISIS in the city of Fallujah, a city west of Baghdad that was captured by the militants more than two years ago. The fighting displaced tens of thousands of people from the city, and they have been living under very difficult conditions in the desert with little food, shelter or water. I talked to Loveday Morris about this. She's the Baghdad bureau chief for The Washington Post. And she just got back from Fallujah. I asked her to describe what she saw in the city after security forces moved in.

LOVEDAY MORRIS: There was quite a celebratory feel really, actually. There was a lot of people firing their guns in the air and playing music, driving through the city - still a lot of IEDs around, a lot of roadside bombs. So that's the real work now will be clearing those. There were some explosions going off as people accidently triggered those in the city yesterday. So that's going to be a real task going forward.

MCEVERS: Fallujah is a city where U.S. forces, of course, fought long and hard battles in. And many people expected this battle to take a lot longer than it did. I mean, we're talking about, you know, five weeks. How were Iraqi forces able to do it so quickly? And I guess, what does that say about the state of ISIS in Iraq right now?

MORRIS: ISIS is certainly on the back foot in Iraq right now. They've lost more than 40 percent of their territory. Some people thought this would be a really tough fight for the Iraqi security forces. It was a tough fight, but they did do it a lot faster than people expected. Talking to commanders on the ground, they put that down to a few reasons. One is that Fallujah's been wringed for months, if not almost a year, by security forces. Their supply lines have been slowly cut off. Also, the sentiment of the local population - I think when the Americans were coming into Fallujah there was a lot more anti-American sentiment, whereas a lot of Fallujains (ph), speaking to them over time, were really fed up with ISIS. So I think that's definitely a factor.

MCEVERS: We've seen the reports that, you know, more than 80,000 people fled Fallujah. I mean, it is a very hot time in Iraq right now. I mean, a couple days ago you tweeted, in 4 1/2 years of covering Syria and Iraq, I've never seen conditions this bad. No tents, no water, no words. Are people still living like this?

MORRIS: I haven't been back up since that day when people were first flooding out, and conditions were really horrific. A lot of people, despite those really harsh temperatures, maybe more of the people that had tents, were saying they were glad to be out of Fallujah. There were others that were saying, you know, this is much worse. We wish we never left.

There was one family I was talking to that really stuck out. It was a woman and her children. They'd been sleeping out for three or four days in the desert. They had a disabled son, and he wasn't able to get medication and had chronic pain. His legs were cramping, and he was actually just - the whole time I was speaking to the family he was just screaming in pain. And they had absolutely nothing. They were sitting there with no tent, one blanket between them. And it was really, really harrowing to speak to them.

MCEVERS: It sounds like attention now, of course, will turn to getting people back home. And also now the next battle, which is for the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. I guess the question is, you know, with ISIS on its heels, as you said, and losing territory in Iraq, are they going to be doubling down in Mosul? I mean, will that make it a much harder fight?

MORRIS: Perhaps, I mean, I suppose one of two things could happen. You either see them doubling down and really, ferociously fighting for that city. Or you might see them almost cutting their losses to a certain extent and turning back to those more insurgent tactics. But no one expects Mosul to be an easy fight, for sure. You know, it's a much bigger city than Fallujah.

MCEVERS: Right.

MORRIS: There are a lot more civilians. It's second, third-biggest city in Iraq, really. So it's going to be a huge challenge.

MCEVERS: Well, Loveday Morris is the Baghdad bureau chief for The Washington Post. Thank you very much.

MORRIS: Thank you.

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