BAGHDAD, Sept. 29 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Friday announced the launch of the second phase of offensive to dislodge the extremist Islamic State (IS) militants from their stronghold in the city of Hawijah and surrounding areas.
"We announce the start of the second phase of the liberation of Hawijah and all the surrounding areas to the west of Kirkuk, and as promised the sons of our country are continuing to liberate every inch of the land of Iraq and crush the gangs of terrorist Daesh group," said Abadi in a statement.
The army, federal police, elite interior ministry forces, known as Rapid Response and the paramilitary Hashd Shaabi brigades had begun the second phase of a large-scale operation to liberate the city of Hawijah and the nearby towns of Rashad, Ryadh, Abbasi and the surrounding areas, Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir Yarallah, Commander of Hawijah Operations, said in a separate statement.
The federal police and Rapid Response forces carried out an overnight operation on the al-Zab River, where the troops built a bridge and crossed to sweep the nearby villages and the town of Abbasi, Yarallah said.
The first phase of the operation was launched on Sept. 21 to liberate Hawijah in the western part of Iraq's oil-rich Kirkuk province.
The operation to free Hawijah came as tensions are running high between Baghdad government and the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan after the Kurdish region held a controversial referendum on independence of Kurdistan and disputed areas, including Kirkuk.
The independence referendum was opposed by many countries because it would threaten the integrity of Iraq and it could undermine fight against Islamic State militants.