BAGHDAD (AP) — The Iraqi government began on Monday a long-awaited large-scale operation to dislodge Islamic State militants from Iraq’s western Anbar province, a spokesman announced.
The spokesman for the Joint Operations Command, Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, said in a televised statement that started at dawn Monday and that government forces are backed by Shiite and Sunni pro-government fighters. Rasool didn’t clarify whether the U.S.-led international coalition is taking part.
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 IS control. In May, authorities announced an operation to retake Ramadi, but there has not been any major progress on the ground since then.
In a brief statement, Iraq’s Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, 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.”
The Islamic State group, also known by the Arabic acronym Daesh, 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 last month.
During the past few weeks, the have been moving to cut the militants’ supply routes and to surround and isolate Ramadi and Fallujah.
Rasool didn’t provide any further details on the ongoing operations. By noon, the country’s state TV reported government forces recapturing villages and areas around Fallujah.
Hours after the announcement of the operation, Iraq’s Defense Ministry announced the arrival of four F-16 fighter jets from the United States to Balad air base north of Baghdad. They are part of 36 F-16s purchased by the Iraqi government.
The new fighter jets will boost Iraq’s Air Force, which depends only on several Russian-made secondhand Sukhoi jets. Last week, a Sukhoi fighter jet accidentally dropped a bomb over a Baghdadneighborhood and killed at least 12 people.
Meanwhile Monday, the IS group claimed responsibility for Sunday’s series of bombings in Shiite areas of the capital, Baghdad, that killed at least 29 people and wounded 81 others, according to the IS-affiliated Aamaq news agency.
Iraq is going through its worst crisis since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. . The Islamic State group controls large swaths of the country’s north and west after capturing Iraq’s second-largest city ofMosul and the majority of Anbar province.