MOSUL, Iraq, May 25 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi paramilitary Hashd Shaabi units retook control of nine villages from Islamic State (IS) militants on Thursday, as part of a new push of a major operation to drive out the militants from areas near Iraqi-Syrian border in west of Mosul, the units said in a statement.
The predominantly Shiite Hashd Shaabi units, backed by army helicopters, freed the nine villages scattered in the open land in north and east of 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 in about 100 km west of Mosul, and extend further to the Iraqi-Syrian border in the west.
The new push of the paramilitary forces began late Wednesday night and reportedly managed in the early morning to free four of the nine villages and surrounded three others.
The forces are advancing westward in the open land to free all the militant-seized villages and take control of the IS supply routes around Baaj in order to isolate it and liberate the town later.
The Hashd Shaabi units fought sporadic clashes against IS militants and killed a total of 38 extremist militants, including four suicide bombers, and destroyed two booby-trapped vehicles and nine other vehicles carrying IS militants, the statement said.
Two days ago, the 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.
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.