BAGHDAD, Sept. 21 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi security forces on Thursday launched a new offensive against the Islamic State (IS) militants and recaptured a total of 19 villages as they are advancing to free the city of Hawijah in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, the Iraqi military said.
The army's 9th Armored Division and two paramilitary Hashd Shaabi brigades freed 11 villages as they advanced in the rural area in north of the city of Hawijah, some 230 km north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir Yarallah, from the Iraqi Joint Operations Command (JOC), said in a brief statement.
Meanwhile, a security source told Xinhua that the Iraqi troops freed eight more villages near the eastern bank of the city of Shirqat, some 280 km north of Baghdad, among which were the IS redoubts in the villages of Gan'ous and Imam Sharqi.
At least seven IS militants were killed during the advance in the eight villages near Shirqat, while the troops will continue push to approach the nearby major IS stronghold in Hawijah, the source said.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Hashd Shaabi brigades, said Thursday that the offensive will be conducted in two phases: the first is to retake control of areas in east of Shirqat and approach to Hawijah; the second is to dislodge IS militants from their stronghold in Hawijah.
Earlier in the day, the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the launch of a new offensive to drive out IS militants from Hawijah in the western part of Iraq's oil-rich Kirkuk province.
"With a new Iraqi dawn, we announce the launch of the first stage of an operation to liberate Hawijah," Abadi said in the morning in a brief statement.
Also in the morning, Yarallah said in a separate statement that the army forces, federal police, the interior ministry's elite forces of Rapid Response and the paramilitary Hashd Shaabi brigades began an operation to liberate the areas in east of the city of Shirqat and Hawijah.
The eastern part of Shirqat and the surrounding villages and rural areas, which stretch to the city of Hawijah, have been under IS rule since June 2014.