The New York Times reports: Along the battle line north of Falluja, small units of Shiite fighters are raining mortar shells and rockets down on the city and its Islamic State occupiers. Militia graffiti is scrawled in red paint along a network of low walls cratered by bullets and bombs, and a wailing ambulance siren signals another load of wounded bound for treatment away from the front.
The battle for Falluja has become entrenched outside the city itself. Iraqi forces surrounding the area have been bogged down by a fierce Islamic State counterattack. A few civilians managed to escape the city as the fighting closed in, but the status of tens of thousands still trapped there is an urgent question.
Some parts of the extended battlefield are lush with date palm trees and almost bucolic, familiar to anyone who watched television images of American Marines fighting over the same territory more than a decade ago. But mostly, the land is brown and parched, scarred by the fighting. A charred tank, split in two, sits at an intersection, and smoke is always rising in the distance, from an airstrike, a mortar or a car bomb.
The landscape has also been gutted by an elaborate network of tunnels — some of which have been hit in recent days by American airstrikes — that the Islamic State was able to construct while it held the area for more than two years. [Continue reading…]