MOSUL, Iraq, May 25 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi paramilitary Hashd Shaabi units initiated a new advance to recapture areas scattered near Iraqi-Syrian border in west of Mosul, as part of a major operation to dislodge the Islamic State (IS) militants from Iraqi side of the border, the units said in a statement Thursday.
They began their progress on late Wednesday night to recapture the IS-held town of Baaj, some 25 km west of the newly-freed town of al-Qairwan, the statement said.
The two towns are located in the rugged sprawling area about 100 km west of Mosul.
In the early morning hours, the paramilitary units, backed by the army's helicopter gunships, freed four villages in west of al-Qairwan as they are advancing westward in the open land to free Baaj, according to the statement.
The Hashd Shaabi forces have surrounded three more militant-seized villages in the area between al-Qairwan and Baaj, the statement said.
The helicopter gunships destroyed a booby-trapped car during the fighting with IS militants, and are searching for seven IS vehicles carrying heavy machine guns spotted near one of the villages, it added.
Two days ago, the Hashd Shaabi units liberated al-Qairwan and many villages scattered around the town from the IS militants and announced that the paramilitary forces had ended the first stage of major offensive designed to secure the border areas with neighboring Syria and cut off the IS' supply routes between Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqqa, the capital of the IS' self-declared caliphate.
The paramilitary units are now advancing to free the villages and take control of the IS supply routes around Baaj in order to isolate it and liberate the town later.
Furthermore, the operation came as Iraqi security forces, backed by the anti-IS international coalition, were simultaneously conducting a major offensive to dislodge IS militants from their major stronghold in western Mosul.
Mosul, 400 km north of Baghdad, has been under IS control since June 2014, when government forces abandoned their weapons and fled, enabling IS militants to control parts of Iraq's northern and western regions.