Iraqi forces have finished clearing 30 villages in al-Hawija and its environs in western Kirkuk province of fleeing "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) militants, the Ministry of Defence announced Thursday (January 4th).
The campaign, which kicked off Wednesday, aims to crack down on ISIS pockets and seize their weapons caches and secret hideouts.
Among the villages searched were Ali al-Sultan, Hassan Sabih, Sabti Hamid, al-Rafieyat, al-Qarab, Sayed Hassoun, al-Hawayej, al-Wardiya and al-Shajara, a ministry statement said.
Units from the army’s 9th Armoured Division took part in the search operation alongside tribesmen, and in co-operation with the local residents.
"The area targeted in this operation is located within al-Hawija and its outskirts and includes rural villages that are largely farmlands," Kirkuk provincial council member Maan al-Hamdani told Diyaruna.
It geographically overlaps with other areas in Kirkuk, such as al-Debs and Daqouq, and with the administrative boundaries of neighbouring provinces, he said.
"The terrorists are exploiting the large expanse of the area and the fact that some villages are empty of inhabitants who were displaced during ISIS's control," al-Hamdani said.
He said ISIS elements still hiding in the area are "only remnants of the group, moving in secret from one place to another in small batches of two to three individuals, who carry out limited operations and then escape".
Recent sporadic attacks against civilians and military personnel in al-Hawija have resulted in Iraqi forces reinforcing their deployment and beefing up their patrols and security checkpoints in search of the perpetrators.
Al-Hamdani said he is in daily contact with residents and local dignitaries in al-Hawija, who "confirm that the security situation is stable, and has been stable even before the security campaign started".
"This campaign will once and for all eliminate the remaining ISIS cells in the area," he said.
It will also reassure residents as well as displaced families who want to return to their homes, he added.