Published: Fri, September 22, 2017
World | By Paul Elliott

Iraqi Shiite militias join battle for IS-held town of Hawija

Iraqi Shiite militias join battle for IS-held town of Hawija

Kurdish Peshmerga forces took control of Kirkuk after the Iraqi army collapsed in the face of Islamic State offensive in 2014, preventing the militants from capturing the oil fields.

IRBIL, Iraq - In a push at dawn, Iraqi forces opened an operation Thursday to retake the town of Hawija - one of the last extremist strongholds in Iraq - from the Islamic State group, according to a statement from the Iraqi prime minister's office.

Amnesty researchers interviewed 151 west Mosul residents, experts and analysts, and documented 45 attacks in total, which killed at least 426 civilians and injured more than 100, providing analysis for nine specific attacks by Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition.

OTHER POCKETS: IS also holds pockets of territory elsewhere, notably in eastern parts of the central provinces of Homs and Hama, where it is the target of another Russian-backed offensive by government forces.

"We announce the launch of the first phase of the liberation of Hawija, in fulfilment of our pledge to our people to liberate all Iraqi territory and to cleanse it from the terrorist Daesh [Isis] gangs". Dillon said the Kurdish referendum had pulled "resources and focus" away from the fight against IS and he predicted that after swift Iraqi victories in western Anbar, the battle for Hawija will be "hard fighting".

"They have already suffered horribly under ISIS rule.food, water and medicine are running out, with many children reportedly weak and malnourished", the organisation said.

"Now families face a bad choice of staying put as fighting intensifies, or risking their lives to flee on foot for up to 12 hours through minefields and snipers, then wade across a river to reach safety".

Dillon also tweeted on Wednesday that the Iraqi Air Force had dropped leaflets in the area, urging IS to surrender and providing safety instructions for civilians.

Preparations for the operation have been overshadowed by a bitter dispute between Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdish leaders over their plans to hold an independence referendum on Monday in areas including Kirkuk.

Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate effectively collapsed in July, when US -backed Iraqi forces completed the recapture of Mosul, the militants' capital in northern Iraq, after a nine-month campaign.

Mr Abadi says the referendum is "anti-constitutional" and wants it cancelled.

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