Monday, Jun 17, 2024 | Last Update : 09:44 PM IST

  World   Middle East  21 Sep 2017  After Mosul, Iraqi forces begin operation to retake Hawija from ISIS group

After Mosul, Iraqi forces begin operation to retake Hawija from ISIS group

AP
Published : Sep 21, 2017, 2:32 pm IST
Updated : Sep 21, 2017, 2:32 pm IST

In the western Anbar province, Iraqi forces retook the town of Rihana on Wednesday, according to a statement from the coalition.

Iraqi special focus advance to their next position in the Islah al-Zarai area in Mosul, Iraq. (Photo: AP) (Representational Image)
 Iraqi special focus advance to their next position in the Islah al-Zarai area in Mosul, Iraq. (Photo: AP) (Representational Image)

Irbil, (Iraq): In a push at dawn, Iraqi forces launched an operation on Thursday to retake the town of Hawija - one of the last extremist strongholds in Iraq - from the Islamic State group, according to a statement from the Iraqi prime minister's office.

The operation began just two days after Iraqi forces began an offensive against ISIS holdouts in Iraq's vast western Anbar province, said Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Hawija, 240 kilometers (150 miles) north of Baghdad, is one of the last pockets of territory held by the extremist group in the country. ISIS has been steadily losing ground and seeing its sprawling caliphate that in 2014 spanned a third of the territory of Iraq and also neighbouring Syria crumbling fast.

Earlier this month, Iraqi and US-led coalition planes stepped up a campaign of air strikes on Hawija, targeting ISIS bases and weapons facilities.

The Islamic State group "now faces the mighty (Iraqi security forces in) the last two areas where they hold any territory in Iraq," US-led coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon said Thursday morning in a statement posted on Twitter.

In the western Anbar province, Iraqi forces retook the town of Rihana on Wednesday, according to a statement from the coalition. The territory ISIS holds in the western province lies mainly along the border with Syria in the Euphrates River valley.

Iraqi forces declared victory over the extremists in Mosul in July and in the western town of Tal Afar the following month.

Plans to retake Hawija have been complicated by political wrangling among the Iraqi security forces, Shiite armed groups and the Kurdish Peshmerga troops. The town is part of the Kirkuk governorate, which is disputed between the central government in Baghdad and the northern Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region, where a referendum on independence is scheduled to take place next week.

Tensions have risen in the area recently as Kurdish leaders are pressing ahead with the referendum, a move dismissed by the central government as illegal and destabilizing to the country.

Iraqi Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir Rashid Yarallah, deputy commander of the joint operations, told The Associated Press that along with the push to liberate Hawija, Iraqi forces and Shiite militias are also fighting to liberate the nearby town of Sherqat.

Lt. Gen. Raid Shawkat Jawdat, commander of the Iraqi Federal Police that is also taking part in the operation, said dozens of their armored vehicles started the push at dawn Thursday.

Tags: iraqi forces, isis group, anbar province, haider al-abadi
Location: Iraq, Irbil, Irbil