Why many Fallujah Residents have yet to Return Home

The city has also become known for extremely high rates of birth defects after 2003, allegedly connected with the use of depleted uranium and white phosphorus during military operations.

Fallujah was seen as ripe for IS recruitment, and it was taken by the group in the first few days of January 2014.

"The population was deceived by them. We thought that they were revolutionaries," one former Fallujah native now living in Baghdad told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. "But most of the propaganda came from imams from other areas in Anbar province such as al-Qaim, Anah and Rawa." All are farther west and some are still under IS control.

Nahla al-Rawi, an Anbar provincial council member originally from al-Qaim, told Al-Monitor that many Iraqi government and international coalition airstrikes in her area were currently hitting civilians. She said most of the people there were from her tribe, and that "everyone wishes those belonging to IS with blood on their hands would just die. However, they need to be held accountable before the central government."

Police chief Jamal al-Jumaili told Al-Monitor that he had been at the forefront of operations both in Fallujah and the nearby provincial capital of Ramadi, which was taken back in late 2015. The Counterterrorism Services and the national police forces worked together to liberate the area.

Jumaili served in Saddam's army prior to 2003 and was appointed police chief after the city was retaken a few months ago.

In comparing the two main urban centers in the province, he said the "fight was harder in Fallujah, but Ramadi was more heavily damaged because IS laid more booby traps" before abandoning the city.

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