Iraq begins operation to retake Anbar from Islamic State
The Iraqi government began Monday a long-awaited large-scale military operation to dislodge Islamic State group militants from Iraq's western Anbar province, a military spokesman announced.
The spokesman for the Joint Operations Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, said in a televised statement that the operation started at dawn Monday and that government forces are backed by Shia and Sunni pro-government fighters. Rasool did not clarify if the US-led international coalition is taking part.
This is not the first time the Iraqi government has announced an operation to retake Anbar - where several key towns, including the provincial capital Ramadi, remain under IS control. In May, authorities announced an operation to retake Ramadi, but there has not been any major progress on the ground since then.
IS seized large parts of Anbar in early 2014 and captured Ramadi in May. Iraqi forces, which had been making steady progress against the extremists in recent months with the help of the air campaign, scored a major victory in recapturing Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit on 31 March 2015.
During the past few weeks, the troops have been moving to cut the militants' supply routes and to surround and isolate Ramadi and Fallujah.
At the same time Iraq's Popular Mobilisation militias announced the start of the battle for the 'liberation' of Fallujah.
The war media team of the Popular Mobilisation released a press statement that said 10,000 fighters from the Popular Mobiliation and the security forces were taking part in the operation.
"Forces are moving towards the bridge over the Euphrates River between Saqlawiyah and Fallujah," the statement added.
Local officials, however, questioned the Popular Mobilisation militias claims and said security services were trying to cut off the only way into the city to choke it economically.
"The battle is an attempt to cut off the only entrance to the city linking it to Ramadi, and the only access route through which food and aid can reach civilians," said local witnesses.
The witnesses told al-Araby al-Jadeed that the Popular Mobilisation militias and security forces were continuing their aerial and ground bombardment of Fallujah, and that the city had not yet been breached.