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Iraq launches new offensive into Islamic State group stronghold Open in fullscreen

The New Arab

Iraq launches new offensive into Islamic State group stronghold

There are concerns for thousands of civilians trapped in areas of fighting [File photo: AFP]

Date of publication: 23 April, 2016

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Iraqi forces and hundreds of Sunni Arab tribal fighters have gone on the attack in Anbar province, to capture a vital IS supply route in western Iraq.
Iraqi forces have launched a new offensive in the west of the country to retake territories from the Islamic State group.

The assault in Anbar province is being led by Iraqi troops and backed by hundreds of Sunni Arab tribal fighters and with US war planes providing air support.

It is an operation Baghdad hopes will cut IS supplies to other areas under its control and diminish its strength in the west of the country.

Military planners are preparing to retake areas such as al-Doulab, Zukheikha and a strategic road linking liberated Ramadi to towns in the upper Euphrates, which the jihadis have held for over two years.

The government-tribal assault has been launched along three axes, preceded by aerial and rocket bombardment to soften resistance, Iraqi military sources told The New Arab.

"The goal is to liberate... the Baghdadi-Hit highway to cut off supply routes linking IS cells in western Anbar and eastern Anbar," said Col. Mohammad al-Dulaimi from the Anbar Operations Command.

The US airforce is "strongly backing the Iraqi operations," he added.

Heavy fighting has been reported in the areas affected, amid conflicting information regarding the fate of thousands of civilians trapped there.

But it is not clear what will happen to the large number of civilians in the areas of operation.

"IS has prevented residents from leaving," local tribal leader Sheikh Ahmad al-Shummari told The New Arab.

"The attacking forces are indifferent to civilian lives, and are only interested in liberating the area," he added.
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A short statement issued by the Joint Operations Command Room later confirmed the army was in the process of liberating three regions west of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province from IS.

The statement confirmed that the seventh infantry brigade and auxiliary forces were leading the attack.

The Islamic State group overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, and captured Anbar's provincial capital Ramadi the following year.

Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes and bolstered by American training have since regained signficant ground from the militants.

But IS still holds territory in Anbar and much of Nineveh province in northern Iraq. It is also able to carry out frequent attacks against civilians and security forces in government-held areas.

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