BAGHDAD (AP) — The Iraqi government began on Monday a long-awaited large-scale military operation to dislodge Islamic State 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 Shiite and Sunni pro-government fighters. Rasool didn’t clarify whether the U.S.-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.
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 last month.
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In a brief statement, Iraq’s 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.”
During the past few weeks, the troops have been moving to cut the militants’ supply routes and to surround and isolate Ramadi and Fallujah.
Rasool didn’t provide any further details on the ongoing operations. By noon, the country’s state TV reported government forces recapturing villages and areas around Fallujah.
Meanwhile Monday, the IS group claimed responsibility for Sunday’s series of bombings in Shiite areas of the capital, Baghdad, that killed at least 29 people and wounded 81 others, according to the IS-affiliated Aamaq news agency.
Iraq is going through its worst crisis since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops. The Islamic State group controls large swaths of the country’s north and west after capturing Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul and the majority of Anbar province.