Iraq Forces Push Into IS Bastion Hawija

Iraq Forces Push Into IS Bastion HawijaIraq Forces Push Into IS Bastion Hawija

Iraqi forces pushed into the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group stronghold of Hawija on Wednesday, commanders said, stepping up their assault against one of the militants’ last enclaves in the country.

Government and allied forces backed by a US-led coalition launched an offensive last month to oust IS from Hawija, a longtime insurgent bastion, AFP reported.

The town is among the final holdouts from the territory seized by the militants in 2014 and its recapture would leave only a handful of remote outposts in IS hands.

The Hawija operation’s commander, Lieutenant General Abdel Amir Yarallah, said the army, federal police and rapid response force had begun a major operation “to liberate the center of Hawija and the neighboring town of Riyadh”.

Federal police chief Raed Shakir Jawdat said in a statement that elite units had entered the city from the northwest amid artillery and missile bombardments of militant positions.

“They are advancing and the goal is to take seven neighborhoods of Hawija and 12 vital objectives,” he said, without providing more details.

The operation involves the army, the federal police, elite units, as well as tribal volunteers and the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force.

Hashed said its engineers were demining the route into Hawija and that IS fighters had retreated to the town center after “their defenses were breached”.

It said it had evacuated several dozen families from villages close to Hawija after they escaped militants’ attempts to use them as human shields.

The United Nations announced on Tuesday that an estimated 12,500 people had fled the town since the launch of the offensive to retake Hawija and surrounding areas last month.

The UN’s humanitarian affairs office (OCHA) said the number of people still in the town was unknown but could be as high 78,000.

It said humanitarian agencies have set up checkpoints, camps and emergency sites in the area capable of receiving more than 70,000 people who could flee.

Hawija, 230 kilometers (140 miles) north of Baghdad, is one of just two areas of Iraq still held by IS, along with a stretch of the Euphrates Valley near the Syrian border which is also under attack.

Hawija has been an insurgent bastion since soon after the US-led invasion of 2003, earning it the nickname of “Kandahar in Iraq” for the ferocious resistance it put up similar to that in the Taliban militia’s citadel in Afghanistan.

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