Iraqi forces on Wednesday (April 18th) secured four villages along the Upper Euphrates in western Anbar from pockets of "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) remnants.
A security operation is under way to rid the Upper Euphrates of ISIS remnants, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abbadi announced Tuesday.
Joint forces from al-Jazeera Operations Command, the army's 7th and 8th Divisions, Anbar police and tribesmen are participating in the operation, with air cover from the Iraqi army and the international coalition.
The operation will cover the area from Rawa Island up to the administrative border with Ninawa province's al-Hadar district, and onward towards the border with Syria, according to Rawa district mayor Hussein al-Okeidi.
Security forces have secured four villages north of the Euphrates River, he told Diyaruna, naming them as Muhairja, Abu al-Hayal, al-Sukhairat and al-Futaihat.
"They attacked secret ISIS strongholds containing various weapons, explosive devices and explosive belts ready to be detonated, and destroyed underground tunnels," al-Okeidi said.
"The area targeted is characterised by rough terrain with hills and valleys, the largest of which is the valley known as al-Wadi al-Tawil," he said, noting that the wadi stretches up to the Iraqi-Syrian border.
Rawa 'safe from threat'
"There are groups of ISIS elements in that area, but they are not safe," he said, as coalition aircraft patrol the skies "day and night".
"Repeated military operations there also do not allow terrorists to establish stable positions and always force them to flee and hide in remote desert areas," he added.
Rawa is "safe from the threat" of ISIS remnants, al-Okeidi stressed, and the security situation has contributed to the return of residents displaced by the group.
"Since the liberation of our city, 413 displaced families have returned to their homes," he said. "We also have received requests for return from some 650 families, who will hopefully return soon, in several batches."
There are currently 1,312 families in the city out of the total of 4,300 that lived in Rawa before it was invaded by ISIS, he said.