Iraq forces begin major operation to recapture Anbar
BAGHDAD - Iraqi forces retook two villages in Anbar on Monday as part of their operations against the Islamic State group in the western province, security officials said.
"The security forces were able to advance and liberate the areas of Albu Shijil and Shiha near Khaldiyah, between Saqlawiya and Ramadi," an army lieutenant colonel said.
He said the operation was made possible by the fact that anti-IS forces had trapped the jihadists inside their stronghold of Fallujah, further east.
A top official from the Khaldiyah area, Ibrahim al-Fahdawi, confirmed the liberation of the two villages in the Euphrates Valley.
Iraq's joint operations command trumpeted the launch of "operations to liberate Anbar" at 5:00 am (0200 GMT) but provided few details.
"Your armed forces, Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation), special operations (forces), federal police and tribesmen, are engaging in the liberation operations and advancing towards the set targets," a statement said.
Hashed al-Shaabi said its forces were advancing northeast of Fallujah, an IS bastion which has escaped government control since early 2014 and where US troops faced the toughest battles of their eight-year occupation.
Iraqi security forces, Shiite militiamen and Sunni tribesmen have been fighting IS around Fallujah and Ramadi for months.
Operations to liberate Anbar, the vast western Iraqi province which is largely controlled by IS, have been previously announced.
The last one was proclaimed in the immediate aftermath of the shock capture by the jihadists of the provincial capital Ramadi in mid-May.
The government had to call in the Hashed al-Shaabi, an umbrella organisation whose main components are Tehran-backed Shiite militias, to supplement its own underperforming forces.
The army and the Hashed have sent conflicting messages as to whether Ramadi or Fallujah should be the first target of their efforts in Anbar.