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Iraqi forces, militias retake key town from ISIS

Aid agencies have become alarmed about civilian suffering in a city that has been under siege for six months

Published: Updated:

Iraqi security forces and supporting militias have retaken the key town of Karma from ISIS, the government's first important victory in its battle to reclaim Falluja, a spokesman for Iraq's Joint Operations Command said Thursday.

The federal police chief in Fallujah, Raed Shakir told Al Arabiya News that the recapture of Karma, about 16 kilometers northeast of Falluja, brings most of the territory east of Falluja under government control, adding that dozens from ISIS members were killed in the operation.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s top Shiite Muslim cleric urged government and allied Shiite militia forces fighting to retake Fallujah from ISIS militants to spare trapped civilians amid reports of a budding humanitarian crisis in the city.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s appeal reflected concerns that a large civilian death toll in the battle for the mainly Sunni Muslim city could kindle increased sectarian strife in Iraq. The Baghdad government has been led by Shiites since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein, a member of the Sunni minority.

Sistani added his voice to many calls for restraint in the battle begun on Monday to retake Fallujah, on Baghdad’s western approaches and the first Iraqi city to fall under the control of the ultra-hardline ISIS group, in January 2014.

“Sayyid Sistani reaffirms his recommendations that the ethics of jihad (Islamic holy war or struggle) be respected,” his representative, Sheikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai, said in a statement.

“Don’t be extreme ... don’t be treacherous. Don’t kill an old man, nor a boy, nor a woman. Don’t cut a tree unless you have to,” he said, citing sayings of the Prophet Mohammed.

Aid agencies have become alarmed about civilian suffering in a city that has been under siege for six months, and the United Nations has urged combatants to protect inhabitants trying to escape the fighting.