BAGHDAD, Nov. 23 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi security forces Thursday retook control of 77 villages as part of a large-scale military operation to dislodge the Islamic State (IS) militants from their hideouts in the desert in western Iraq, the Iraqi military said.
The Iraqi army, paramilitary Hashd Shaabi brigades and federal police recaptured the villages as they cleared more than 5,800 square kilometers from the extremist militants in the first day of the second phase of the offensive, Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir Rasheed Yarallah, commander of western Iraq operations, said in a brief statement.
The troops, backed by the army's helicopter gunships, also seized a bridge and a small airbase in south of Hatra area, some 60 southwest of Mosul, Yarallah said.
Earlier in the day, Yarallah announced the launch of the second phase of the offensive with the aim of dislodging IS militants from their hideouts in the vast desert near the border with Syria, which extends to the Sunni heartland in Iraq's northern province Nineveh, Salahudin province north of capital Baghdad, and western province Anbar.
The forces ended the first phase of the offensive on Nov. 17, when they drove out IS militants from their last urban stronghold in Iraq and raised the Iraqi flag over buildings in the city of Rawa and nearby border areas north of the Euphrates River.
The IS seized large swathes of territory in Iraq in 2014. After three years of fierce battle, Iraqi forces have retaken most of the occupied areas, including Iraq's second largest city Mosul.