Iraq is planning a military operation to liberate western Anbar areas from the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), from the towns of Ana and Rawa and their surrounding villages to the city of al-Qaim on the Syrian border.
Joint Iraqi forces have dealt ISIL a painful blow by expelling the group from Fallujah, its stronghold in Anbar, in a 34-day battle, Iraqi officials told Mawtani.
The operation to free Fallujah, completed on June 26th, has succeeded in breaking the group's power in the province and dramatically diminishing its presence, they said.
"The Iraqi government is determined to drive ISIL from the whole of Anbar province," said counter-terrorism agency spokesman Sabah al-Noman.
The next move will be to advance towards Rawa and Ana and the westernmost tip of the province, he told Mawtani.
The fighting is expected to progress without difficulty in those areas "since ISIL's morale has completely collapsed following its latest defeats in Anbar", he added.
Once liberated and secured, he said, western Anbar will become a base for the operations to liberate the city of Mosul in the north of the country.
Plans to move into western Anbar
Several contingents of al-Jazeera and al-Badiya operations command met in Anbar to prepare for the battle to liberate western parts of the province, said Nazim al-Jughaifi, commander of the Haditha brigade.
They agreed to launch the military operation after Ramadan, he told Mawtani.
"Preparations are under way to accept an armoured brigade into al-Jazeera operations command in preparation for the battle, which will involve forces from the army's 7th Division and supporting contingents," he said.
Military operations will set out for the village of al-Zawiya, around 25 kilometres west of Haditha, where ISIL fighters who fled Heet after its liberation have been congregating, he said.
ISIL elements moved their base of operations from Heet to al-Zawiya, he said, "and turned it into a springboard for their terror operations, which makes that village an important target in any military move westwards".
The operations will next target al-Sakra, around 40 kilometres from Haditha, he said.
The Haditha brigade will hold the territory in both areas after they are liberated, he added, while the Iraqi forces continue their advance towards Rawa and Ana, and on to al-Qaim.
In retreat, ISIL changes tactics
Rather than confronting the Iraqi forces head on, al-Jughaifi predicted, ISIL will increasingly resort to booby-trapping houses and planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as the numbers and morale of its fighters dwindle.
This tactic will require close attention from the military engineering units responsible for defusing and handling these explosives, he said, which could hamper to some extent the Iraqi forces' advance towards their targets.
"Intelligence information confirms that ISIL fighters already have begun to flee Rawa and Ana for al-Qaim or for the city of Mosul in Ninawa province," he said.
The Anbar provincial council has expressed its fear that the fighting could cause a new displacement crisis that will surpass the local capacity to accommodate it, and has requested more support from the federal government.
The liberation of Rawa and Ana could trigger a new wave of displacement, council spokesman Eid Ammash told Mawtani.
In light of this, he said, "the federal government must make a greater effort to support the local government in providing shelter for the displaced".
Thousands have been displaced by the latest military operations, including the liberation of Fallujah, he said, which places a real burden on Anbar's local administration.