Iraq launches push to retake area north of Baghdad
The operation came as a group of suicide bombers targeted a military headquarters in western Iraq, killing eight officers on Tuesday. No one immediately claimed responsibility for that attack.
"Two suicide bombers stormed the headquarters of the Operations Command Unit, west of Ramadi, and detonated their explosives," a local source told The New Arab.
Iraq's "new offensive" began at dawn in an agricultural area northeast of the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad, with the aim to cut IS supply lines and to tighten the grip around the IS-held northern city of Mosul.
The command centre said paramilitary forces, mostly Shia militias, and the Iraqi air force were backing the push on the area, named Jazerat Samarra.
The statement did not say if the US-led international coalition was involved in the operation.
Controlling the Jazerat Samarra area will not only restrict the IS militants' movements between the three provinces in the region, but will also be essential for future operations to retake parts of Anbar province and Mosul, said Sabah al-Numan, the spokesman of the counter-terrorism forces.
Al-Numan told The Associated Press that two vehicles loaded with militants were bombed on Tuesday and that security forces managed to hit a would-be suicide car bomber before he reached his target.
The offensive comes on the heels of two massive bombings in as many days by the Islamic State group in the area - in the town of Muqdadiyah and in Baghdad - which killed at least 110 people.
Ahmed al-Asadi, a politician and spokesman for the paramilitary forces, said the offensive was "in retaliation for the blood of our martyrs and to annihilate the terrorist gangs that have wrought havoc".
IS still controls much of northern and western Iraq, but has been driven back in recent months in some areas, such as the cities of Ramadi and Tikrit. The government last month declared the western city of Ramadi, the Anbar provincial capital, "fully liberated" after it was captured by IS last year.
Iraqi ground offensives - despite heavy backing from US-led coalition airstrikes - have been slow in scoring key victories against the Islamic State group.
A campaign to retake Mosul, the main city held by Islamic State group in Iraq, has long been believed to be imminent - but has not yet taken off the ground.