Iraqi Army Launches Offensive to Free Daesh-Held Hawija in Kirkuk

Iraqi forces have captured Hawija and the encompassing territory from ISIS, however some battles still raged in a pocket toward the north and east of the town where the militants were surrounded, the military said on Thursday.

The prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, hailed the retaking of Hawija and its surrounding villages 40 miles south-west of the city of Kirkuk after a two-week operation.

The offensive on Hawija was carried out by US-backed Iraqi government troops and Shi'ite paramilitary groups known as Popular Mobilization.

"In addition to the terror they have experienced during years under the control of the IS group, numerous families who are arriving are malnourished", its acting area manager, Silvia Beccacece, said.

Iraqi security officials say the militants are preventing some residents from leaving, while others are afraid of escaping toward government forces because of explosives that might have been laid by Islamic State around the town.

Lt. Gen. Paul Funk II, the commanding general of the coalition in Iraq, said "our Iraqi partners fought bravely and professionally against a brutal and determined enemy, safeguarding innocent civilians throughout the entire campaign".

They also hold parts along Syria's side of the border, but the area under their control is shrinking as they retreat in the face of two different sets of hostile forces - a US-backed, Kurdish-led coalition and Syrian regime troops with foreign Shia militias backed by Iran and Russian Federation.

The US-led coalition of Iraqi soldiers and militia allies reclaimed the second largest city in the country, Mosul, in July after a nine-month long battle with IS.

The recapture is a strategic win for Iraqi troops, backed by a US-led coalition, who for the past year have been pushing to drive IS from parts of the country.

The office added that humanitarian agencies had set up checkpoints, camps and emergency sites ready to accommodate the thousands who could flee.

The town is in Kirkuk province, an oil-rich region that is hotly disputed by both Arabs and Kurds and has been a focal point in decades-long discord between Baghdad and Kurdish leaders over borders.

Last week, it was ousted from Anna, one of three towns it still held in the Euphrates Valley, and Iraqi forces are preparing to advance upstream towards the other two, Rawa and Al-Qaim.

Hawija was one of two territories held by the IS group in Iraq.

  • Rogelio Becker