Iraqi special forces on Fallujah’s southern outskirts have halted offensive operations against Islamic State on that front, army and police officials said Thursday, as authorities struggled over how to evacuate and protect civilians being held as human shields by the extremist group.

Counterterrorism units leading the offensive have been ordered not to undertake any attempts to breach enemy lines, the officials said. Instead, the units were focused on demining the city’s southern outskirts, they said.

Iraqi military leaders have debated for days how long to wait to push into the center of Fallujah, amid fears over the possible harm to tens of thousands of civilians currently trapped there, said military commanders and fighters participating in the operation. […]