Battle with ISIS in Khalidiya is next, Iraqi Army commander says
BAGHDAD - While attention is focused on the long-awaited battle to liberate the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, military officials said they were preparing to recapture more cities in the vast western Iraqi desert of Anbar from Islamic State (ISIS) rule.
In an interview with The Arab Weekly, the commander of the operation that recaptured Falluja from ISIS in July said next in line was Khalidiya.
“The battle to liberate Khalidiya will begin soon,” said Lieutenant- General Abdul Wahab al-Saadi.
Khalidiya, 80km west of Baghdad and 20km east of Ramadi, is situated on the Euphrates River and on the highway that links Baghdad with Ramadi’s provincial capital of Ramadi through Falluja. Part of the city is the peninsula of Khalidiya Island, a popular outing area for many Iraqis .
ISIS occupied the peninsula during a blitz that swept through several Anbar cities in June 2104. Khalidiya was recaptured temporarily but fell back under ISIS control in May 2015.
Saadi said the island’s liberation “is a very important step to make the way between Falluja and the nearby Habbaniya lake safer and will stop ISIS mortars targeting the area”.
Ali Dawood, head of the Khalidiya district council, said the area’s liberation “will help in reopening the international highway that links Iraq with Jordan to the West and Syria to the north.
“It will also reopen the same highway between Baghdad and Ramadi through Falluja in the centre.”
Similar remarks about a looming battle in Khalidiya came from other army and police commanders in recent days.
General Ismael al-Mahallawi, the commander of the Anbar operations, and General Raed Shakir Jawdat, the commander of the Federal Police, were quoted in the local media as saying that Iraqi forces had completed preparations to liberate Khalidiya.
“It’s only a matter of time when the showdown in Khalidiya will start,” Mahallawi said.
The security committee of Anbar’s Provincial Council said ISIS’s presence threatens the security of Ramadi and Falluja. It is also a menace to Khalidiya, where thousands of displaced Iraqis from Falluja and other cities live in camps.
Saadi disclosed that a short trench was being dug north-east of Falluja to separate two army divisions in the area from each other so responsibilities will not be confused. Other officials speculated the trenches were to protect civilians “by hampering the arrival of unwanted guests and newcomers”.
“The same highway is used for Iraqi imports from Jordan,” he said. Jordan sealed it off last year after ISIS attacks in the area, which included looting Jordanian and Iraqi trucks laden with food.
Saadi dismissed an Associated Press report as “erroneous”, saying it misquoted him on the length of the trenches so it appears the army was trying to isolate Falluja from the rest of Iraq.
“The main purpose of the trench is to separate army divisions 1 from 14”, he said. “Falluja does not need any trenches. It’s protected by the Euphrates, the highway and the railway.”
Saadi said Falluja is being cleared of explosive devices and booby-trapped houses.
“Then, the government will work on restoring drinking water and electricity facilities that were destroyed by ISIS,” he said. “The prime minister and the local administration are working closely to allow residents back after the area is made safe and liveable.”
Colonel Yahya Rasool, spokesman for the joint Iraqi forces, said work has been completed on a floating bridge on the Hilwa river, awaiting the “zero hour” announcing the beginning of the Khalidiya operation to recapture the city and the area east of Ramadi.