Hawija (IraqiNews.com) Islamic State members’ numbers in Hawija falls between 800 and 1500, a senior Iraqi commander said Thursday as operations launch to retake the group’s stronghold in Kirkuk.
Speaking during a joint press conference with Ryan Dillon, spokesman of the U.S.-led coalition against IS, Brig. Gen. Yahia Rasoul, spokesman of the Iraqi Joint Operations Command, said those fighters re mostly foreign nationals.
“Based on the information available to us, there had been an infighting among local and foreign IS elements, as some wanted to surrender while others insisted on fighting,” Rasoul stated.
Dillon, on his side, said the coalition continues to provide Iraqi forces with intelligence reports and precision strikes as part of Iraqi operations in Hawija, Anbar and Salahuddin’s Shirqat.
Earlier on Thursday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the Joint Operations Command said that major offensives were launching to retake Islamic State last bastions in Salahuddin’s Shirqat and Kirkuk’s Hawija. Other offensives had launched earlier this week at the group’s holdouts in western Anbar’s borders with Syria.
Federal Police, Rapid Response and the pro-government Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) are carrying out the attack, according to the command.
PMF media said its troops managed to take over four villages in the IS-held eastern side of Salahuddin’s Shirqat town, while Federal Police chief, Shaker Jawdat, said his troops recaptured three other villages after invading the town with tens of combat vehicles and troops.
Iraq hopes to eliminate Islamic State fighters who emerged in 2014 to proclaim a self-styled “Islamic Caliphate”. So far, operations since October 2016 have managed to recapture Mosul, the group’s former capital, and the town of Tal Afar, west of Mosul.