The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

Iraq begins operation to oust ISIL from Anbar

BAGHDAD // The Iraqi government began to dislodge ISIL militants from the country’s western Anbar province on Monday as it launched a long-awaited, large-scale military operation on the extremists.

The operation started at dawn and government forces were backed by Shiite and Sunni pro-government fighters, said the spokesman for the joint operations command, Brig Gen Yahya Rasool, in a televised statement.

He did not say whether the US-led international coalition was taking part.

Iraqi forces on Monday managed to retake two villages in the Euphrates Valley in Anbar as part of the operation, 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.

This is not the first time the Iraqi government has announced an operation to retake Anbar – where several key towns, including the provincial capital, Ramadi, remain under ISIL control.

In May, authorities also announced an operation to retake Ramadi, but there has not been any major progress on the ground since then.

Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadi has vowed to “take revenge from Daesh criminals on the battlefield … and their cowardly crimes against unarmed civilians will only increase our determination to chase them and to expel them from the land of Iraq”.

ISIL seized large parts of Anbar in early 2014 and captured Ramadi in May. Iraqi forces, which had been making steady progress against the extremists in recent months with the help of the air campaign, scored a major victory in recapturing Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit in April.

During the past few weeks, the troops have been moving to cut the militants’ supply routes and to surround and isolate Ramadi and Fallujah.

Meanwhile on Monday, the ISIL group claimed responsibility for a series of bombings on Sunday in Shiite areas of Baghdad that killed at least 29 people and wounded 81.

The blasts were carried out in Shiite neighbourhoods of Baghdad, and several were caused by suicide bombers, according to police and medical sources.

The string of attacks was one of the worst in recent weeks in Baghdad, where it had been feared ISIL would ramp up bombings during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

At least 15,000 civilians have been killed and twice as many wounded in Iraq’s armed conflict since the start of 2014, the United Nations said in a report Monday.

Iraq is going through its worst crisis since the 2011 withdrawal of US troops. ISIL controls large areas of the country’s north and west after capturing Iraq’s second-largest city of Mosul and the majority of Anbar province.

In neighbouring Syria, government helicopter gunships dropped barrel bombs on a diesel market in the northern town of Al Bab that is held by ISIL, said activists and pro-ISIL social media sites.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday’s airstrikes killed 13, including six women, and wounded as many as 40. A Facebook page used by ISIL supporters said 35 people.

Monday’s attack on Al Bab came two days after activists said army airstrikes killed at least 28 people in Al Bab

Al Bab is a frequent target of Syrian army strikes that often kill civilians.

On May 31, Syrian army airstrikes that hit a packed market in al-Bab killed around 70 people, most of them civilians.

* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse