Iraqi forces continue push to besiege IS stronghold in Hawijah

Source: Xinhua| 2017-10-01 23:14:50|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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TIKRIT, Iraq, Oct. 1 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi security forces on Sunday continued their advance in the second phase of offensive to tighten the noose around the stronghold of the Islamic State (IS) militants in the city of Hawijah, recapturing 16 villages, the Iraqi military said.

The Iraqi army, commandos of the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) forces and the paramilitary Hashd Shaabi brigades advanced in the rugged area in the south of the city of Hawijah, some 230 km north of Baghdad, and freed 16 villages.

They also retook control of the southern part of Himreen mountain range and the bridge of Zeghaiton, Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir Yarallah, Commander of Hawijah Operations, said in a brief statement.

A source from Salahudin Operations Command told Xinhua that the federal police and the interior ministry elite forces, known as Rapid Response, and Hashd Shaabi brigades advanced in two directions; one to new positions located some 6 km in west of Hawijah, and the other toward the strategic area of al-Fat'ha at the edge of the Tigris River.

Meanwhile, CTS forces and Hashd Shaabi brigades retook control of al-Msahag village and the presidential palaces of the former president Saddam Hussein in Makhoul Mountain, the source said, adding that the troops are also heading northward to al-Fat'ha strategic area, located in the west of Hawijah.

Sunday's military operations were part of an offensive that began on Friday when the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the launch of the second phase of offensive to dislodge the extremist 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 (IS) group," said Abadi in a statement.

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 IS militants.

In addition, neighboring countries such as Turkey, Iran and Syria see that such a step would threaten their territorial integrity, as larger populations of Kurds live in those countries.