A large scale military counteroffensive operation to remove the Islamic State hold in the Anbar province has been launched by pro-government units, a spokesman for the Popular Mobilization (al-Hashid al-Shaabi) said.
The move came less than two weeks after the militant outfit, also called ISIS or ISIL, captured the provincial capital of Ramadi, marking a humiliating setback for the Iraqi forces.
On Tuesday, a Shiite militia group said several Islamic State militants had been arrested in the Anbar province.
As reported by the Iraqi state TV, the operation supported by the government is backed by Shiite militias and Sunni forces.
According to USA Today, Ahmad al-Assadi, a spokesman for Iraq’s Shiite militias called the Popular Mobilization Forces, said, “We announce the beginning of the military operation to liberate Anbar. This operation will end the hit-and-run operations by (Islamic State) militants. The next coming days will witness an intensifying of the siege on Ramadi.”
Confirming that the Iraqi forces have launched an operation to take back Ramadi, the coalition led by the United States is lending the Iraqi government air support, the joint task force commanding coalition forces said. Almost 2000 to 3000 Iraqi troops are stationed near the city, majorly in blocking positions east and west of Ramadi.
Col. Steve Warren, Pentagon spokesman, said that Iraqi forces are “shaping operations” and “security zone interactions.”
According to Yahoo News, while the Iraqi troops are advancing from their base at Habbaniyah, the Islamic State fighters have started moving in the direction of Habbaniyah, Warren said. However, whether the Iraqi forces have surrounded Ramadi could not be confirmed.
The operation to retake Anbar came a few days after the United States Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in addition to other officials, expressed reproach to the Iraqi forces that fled Ramadi, leaving behind weapons and vehicles, without putting up resistance against the IS advance.
According to BBC, Ahmed al-Assadi, the Popular Mobilisation’s spokesman, announced in a news conference that the operation to retake Anbar would be called “Labayk ya Hussein” (“At your service, O Hussein”), which refers to a Shia imam.
Provincial councilman Faleh al-Issawi and tribesman Rafie al-Fahdawi said that the operation would involve blocking supply routes and seizing the outskirts of Ramadi before advancing into the city. They also said that continued air strikes and fighting was occurring in the west and south of Ramadi on Tuesday, and that more Sunni fighters will join the operation on Wednesday.
Al-Assadi said that new weapons “that will surprise the enemy” are being used by Iraqi forces.
However, deployment of Iranian-backed Shiite militias in the counteroffensive operation threatens the possibility of a sectarian violence in the Sunni province.
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