Iraqi forces have begun a long-awaited, large-scale military operation to drive the so-called Islamic State militants out of the sprawling western Anbar province, the military said.
The operation started at dawn and government forces were being backed by Shiite and Sunni pro-government fighters, a spokesman said.
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.
In a brief statement, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi vowed to “take revenge from Daesh criminals on the battlefield … and their cowardly crimes against unarmed civilians will only increase our determination to chase them and to expel them from the land of Iraq.”
The Islamic State group, also known by the Arabic acronym Daesh, 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 in April.
During the past few weeks, the troops have been moving to cut the militants’ supply routes and to surround and isolate Ramadi and Fallujah.
Today state TV reported government forces recapturing villages and areas around Fallujah, which is half way between Baghdad and Ramadi.
Hours after the announcement of the military operation, Iraq announced the arrival of four F-16 fighter jets from the United States to Balad air base north of Baghdad. They are part of 36 F-16s purchased by the Iraqi government.
Meanwhile, coalition forces continued their aerial campaign across Iraq and Syria, ramping up attacks near Ramadi.
Also, on Monday, IS claimed responsibility for a series of bombings on Sunday in Shiite areas of Baghdad that killed at least 29 people and wounded 81.
In neighbouring Syria, government helicopter gunships dropped barrel bombs on a diesel market in the northern town of al-Bab that is held by the IS, activists said. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the airstrikes killed 13 people, including six women, and wounded up to 40.