Baghdad, April 8 (IANS) Iraqi security forces on Wednesday launched an offensive in Iraq’s western province of Anbar and managed to free two areas held by the Islamic State (IS) militants, a provincial security source said.
The security forces backed by thousands of allied Shia and Sunni militias and covered by Iraqi and US-led coalition aircraft advanced early in the morning on the IS positions in the areas of Sajariyah and Falahat, both located just east of the provincial capital city of Ramadi, some 110 km west of Iraq’s capital Baghdad, the source told Xinhua news agency on condition of anonymity.
The operation was designed to cut the supply routes of the IS militants between Ramadi and the nearby airbase of Habbaniyah, as well as to seize the roads between the partially IS-held Ramadi and the militant-controlled city of Fallujah, some 50 km west of Baghdad, the source said.
The battles in Sajariyah left at least five soldiers and three government-backed militiame, also known as Hashid Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization, dead while 18 soldiers and militiamen were wounded, the source added.
The battles also resulted in the killing of 14 IS militants and the destroying of nine of their vehicles carrying heavy machine guns, he said.
Separately, six people, including a woman and a child, were killed and 10 others were wounded in a barrage of rocket and mortar rounds on a marketplace in Fallujah, the source said.
In addition, the US-led coalition aircraft carried out airstrikes on IS positions on the city of Heet, some 160 km west of Baghdad, and the town of al-Qaim, near the Iraqi-Syrian border, leaving a total of 15 IS militants dead and dozens of others wounded, the source said without elaboration.
On March 18, Iraqi Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi said that the next offensive to free the Iraqi territories from the IS militants would be in Anbar province after the liberation of Tikrit, the capital of Salahudin province.
“We won’t launch the operation to liberate Mosul (capital of northern province of Nineveh) unless we secure Anbar,” Obeidi said.
Obeidi’s comments came to highlight the priorities of the Iraqi security forces, backed by US-led coalition airstrikes, as he emphasised on the significance of Mosul to Iraqis as it is the country’s second largest city, but his troops focused on the Sunni heartland of Anbar in western Iraq.
The IS group has seized parts of Iraq’s largest province Anbar and tried to advance toward Baghdad, but several counter attacks by security forces and Shia militias have pushed them back.
The security situation in Iraq has drastically deteriorated since June last year, when bloody clashes broke out between Iraqi security forces and the IS.