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Iraqi forces launch assault to retake area near al-Hawija

By Khalid al-Taie

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Iraqi security forces, backed by local fighters, launch an attack on the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' stronghold of al-Hawija. [Photo courtesy of Sheikh Wasfi al-Asi]

Iraqi forces, backed by local fighters, launched on Monday (October 2nd) a large-scale offensive to liberate the district of al-Rashad south-east of al-Hawija from the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

The attack is part of the second phase of the battle to recapture the ISIS stronghold of al-Hawija in western Kirkuk province.

The second phase was launched on Friday and has already led to the liberation of dozens of villages, most notably Albu Kanaan, Tuwailaa, al-Salman, al-Aawaj, Albu Sayf, al-Daoudiya, al-Qasamiya, al-Mutasim, al-Jassimiya, Umm al-Tilal, Ein al-Sultan, al-Rafee and al-Hamida.

Iraqi forces also have retaken control of al-Fatha (al-Malih) airport and the Ajeel oil extraction company.

The joint forces have made swift progress on the battlefield, al-Hawija tribal forces commander Sheikh Wasfi al-Asi told Diyaruna.

They "are not facing any serious resistance that could hinder their advance", he said.

ISIS is trying to slow the advance of Iraqi forces by using its "obstruction units", firing mortar shells and planting improvised explosive devices (IEDs), he said, adding that these actions are not affecting "our forces' momentum".

ISIS elements on Friday set fire to two oil wells in the Allas oilfield south of al-Hawija in an attempt to block Iraqi forces' advance and prevent coalition airstrikes.

Iraqi forces managed to take control of the two wells, "but the fires continue to rage", al-Asi said.

ISIS elements escaping battlefields

"Hundreds of square kilometres have so far been liberated from ISIS," he said, noting that "the battles have mostly been easy, even in areas where we expected the fighting to be fierce".

ISIS elements have been escaping from the battlefield, al-Asi said, adding that "many of them have surrendered themselves to the Kurdish forces stationed in eastern al-Hawija".

Iraqi forces now surround the centre of al-Hawija and Riyadh district from all sides, he said.

Residents are welcoming the liberating forces with great joy, he said, as they have lived for the past three years a painful life under ISIS rule.

"Today they are breathing the air of freedom again," he said.

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