Iraq begins offensive to retake IS bastion Hawija: PM

Iraqi forces launch battle against Islamic State footholds in vast Anbar province

Iraqi Forces 'Attack Last IS Bastion on Syria Border'

After the defeat of IS in Mosul and the recapture of adjacent areas, Hawija and neighbouring towns form the last enclave still held by IS in Iraq apart from a section of the Euphrates Valley downstream from the border with Syria.

Iraqi forces backed by USA airstrikes began an assault on the Islamic State in western Anbar province Tuesday, breaching one of the last two militant strongholds in Iraq where the group's elusive leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is thought to be possibly hiding.

Tuesday's announcement came without the usual fanfare that has accompanied such campaigns in the past, underscoring how far Iraq has come in diminishing the Islamic State's influence and territorial dominance in the country.

The operation began just two days after Iraqi forces began an offensive against IS holdouts in Iraq's vast western Anbar province, said Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Preparations for the offensive have been overshadowed by a dispute between the Arab-led central government in Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government over plans to hold a referendum on Kurdish independence.

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TRT World's Nicole Johnston is in Erbil in northern Iraq, and explains the significance of the operation.

Iraqi forces outside the town of Akashat in Anbar province on September 15 prepare for military operations against the Islamic State.

Iraqi Federal Police will be deployed to Shirqat, while Counter-Terrorism Service and the Rapid Response Forces will fight ISIS in Hawija.

A total of 11 villages were captured from Daesh, said the operation's commander, Lieutenant General Abdul Ameer Yarallah, cited by the TV channel.

The United Nations last week said up to 85,000 people could be displaced from the Hawija region.

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"Food, water and medicine are running out, with many children reportedly weak and malnourished".

The Peshmerga hold the frontlines with the Hawija district from the eastern side, near Kirkuk, but are not taking part in the offensive, he said.

Iraqi forces have now forced ISIS out of all its Iraqi territories except Hawija, 300 kilometers north of Baghdad, and several pockets of territory near the border with Syria. IS has been steadily losing ground and seeing its sprawling caliphate that in 2014 spanned a third of the territory of Iraq and also neighboring Syria crumbling fast.

Iraq armed forces spokesman Gen. Yahyah Rasul said that Kurdish peshmerga forces will remain involved in the battle to clear IS militants from the area, despite recent tensions over Kirkuk.

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