CAMP TARIQ, Iraq — Iraqi forces battling their way into Fallujah repelled a four-hour attack by the Islamic State group in the city's south on Tuesday, a day after first moving into the southern edges of the militant-held city with the help of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes.
The attack started at dawn in the Nuaimiya area where Iraqi troops captured almost 85 percent of the ground the previous day, two officers with the special forces told The Associated Press.
IS militants used tunnels, deployed snipers and sent six explosives-laden cars to hit the troops but they were destroyed before reaching their targets, the officers said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing campaign.
Iraqi forces suffered casualties, but the officers didn't give details.
Nuaimiya is a sprawling mainly agricultural area in Fallujah's south and Monday's push into it was the first attempt by Iraqi forces to enter the city after focusing on dislodging the militants from surrounding areas to tighten the siege.
Fallujah, 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Baghdad, has been under Islamic State control for over two years and is the last major city in western Iraq still under control of the Sunni extremist group. The militants still control patches of territory in the country's north and east as well as the country's second largest city, Mosul.
The U.S. led coalition and Iranian-backed Shiite paramilitary forces are helping the Iraqi army in the battle to retake Fallujah. But the fight is expected to be long and protracted, given that IS militants have had more than two years to dig in.
Tunnels — similar to those found in other territory long held by IS — have already been discovered in the northeastern outskirts of Fallujah.
The Iraqi counterterrorism forces are leading the assault on Fallujah, slowly moving up from the southern edge. Their advance is expected to be slow also because tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped in Fallujah and hidden bombs are believed to be strewn throughout the city, according to special forces' commanders at the scene.
Associated Press writer Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad contributed to this report.