Iraqi forces begin offensive to retake IS bastion Hawija
Iraq has begun an offensive to retake Hawija, one of two remaining bastions of the Islamic State group in the country, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced on Thursday.
"At the dawn of a new day, we announce the launch of the first stage of the liberation of Hawija, in accordance with our commitment to our people to liberate all Iraqi territory and eradicate Daesh's terrorist groups," he said in a statement, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
"Greetings to all of our forces, who are waging several battles of liberation at the same time and who are winning victory after victory and this will be another, with the help of God," Abadi added.
Iraqi forces have now forced IS out of all its Iraqi territories except Hawija, 300 kilometres north of Baghdad, and several pockets of territory near the border with Syria.
The town was one of the first areas to fall under IS control in 2014.
A military source told The New Arab that orders to begin the assault on the town were issued at in the early hours of Thursday.
"Security forces are moving ahead with air cover from coalition and Iraq warplanes, which have begun bombing IS positions to break up its ranks," the source said.
The source added that security forces have so far faced "weak resistance" from the extremists in the villages surrounding Hawija.
The operation has begun just two days after Iraqi forces began an offensive against IS holdouts in Iraq's vast western Anbar province.
Plans to retake Hawija have been complicated by political wrangling among the Iraqi security forces, Shia 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.
Iraqi forces declared victory over the extremists in Mosul in July and in the western town of Tal Afar the following month.