Updated: Iraqi forces invade Islamic State bastion Hawija

Members of al-Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces). File photo.

Hawija ( Iraqi forces invaded on Wednesday the center of Hawija town, Islamic State’s major bastion in southwestern Kirkuk, the Iraqi military command said.

The Popular Mobilization Forces’ media outlet had said earlier on Wednesday that Iraqi forces  fully recaptured the town, but a later statement by the Joint Operations Command suggested that the invasion of the town’s center was just beginning. It said army, Federal Police, Rapid Response Forces, and PMF caused “serious losses” for IS militants with the invasion.

JOC field commander, Abdul-Amir Yarallah, said operations have so far seized back 98 villages and left 196 militants dead.

The decisive onslaught came as part of a second stage of operations launched last Friday to seize the town held by Islamic State militants since 2014. The first phase of operations launched on September 24th, and managed to retake eastern Shirqat, an Islamic State haven in neighboring Salahuddin province.

If the Hawija offensive ends successfully, it would mean that only western Anbar’s towns of Rawa and Qaim remain under the militant’s control. Iraqi troops recaptured the town of Annah, a third IS holdout neighboring those two towns, late September.

A wide-scale campaign launched with the backing of a U.S.-led coalition in 2016 to recapture areas occupied by IS since 2014, when the militants declared a self-styled “caliphate” rule in Iraq and neighboring Syria based in Iraq’s Mosul.

Iraqi government, coalition and paramilitary forces recaptured Mosul, the group’s former capital, and the neighboring town of Tal Afar early July and late August.

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