Iraqi forces recapture town in 2nd phase of offensive to free Hawijah from IS

Source: Xinhua| 2017-10-02 22:00:05|Editor: liuxin
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BAGHDAD, Oct. 2 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi security forces battling Islamic State (IS) militants on Monday freed a town and 45 villages as part of the second phase of offensive to dislodge the IS militants from their stronghold in the city of Hawijah and surrounding areas, the Iraqi military said.

The Iraqi army, commandos of the Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) forces and the paramilitary Hashd Shaabi brigades liberated the town of al-Rashad and nearby airport, in addition to 45 villages around the IS-held city of Hawijah, some 230 km north of Baghdad, Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir Yarallah, commander of Hawijah Operations, said in a brief statement.

Meanwhile, a source from Salahudin Operations Command told Xinhua that the federal police and the interior ministry elite forces, known as Rapid Response, advanced to new positions near the strategic area of al-Fat'ha at the edge of the Tigris River west of Hawijah, and started pounding IS positions preparing to take full control of the area.

The troops are also advancing to seize Makhoul Mountain near the Tigris River from IS militants. The mountain is part of vast rugged areas under IS control that stretch from the eastern part of Salahudin province to the city of Hawijah, which located in the western part of the adjacent province of Kirkuk, the source said.

Also in the day, the security forces advanced to new positions located some 5 km away from the IS-held town of Ryadh east of Hawijah, the source added.

Monday's military operations were part of an offensive that began on Sept. 29 when the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the launch of the second phase of offensive to dislodge 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.