Baghdad, Oct 11 (IANS) Iraqi security forces have fully liberated Hawijah area from Islamic State (IS) militants in west of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, the Iraqi military said.
The Iraqi Army, Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), federal police, interior ministry’s commandos, known as Rapid Response, and the paramilitary brigades of Hashd Shaabi, ended their tasks in the liberation of Hawijah area from the extremist IS militants, Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir Yarallah, Commander of Hawijah Operations, said in a statement on Tuesday, Xinhua news agency reported.
Last week, Yarallah announced the liberation of the city of Hawijah, around 45 km from Kirkuk, but the troops were still on their advance outside the city to hunt down the extremists and to recapture the remaining rural area, known as Hawijah Pocket.
The battles in Hawijah Pocket ended fast, indicating that the extremist group has suffered dramatic decline in its ability to cling to the ground, according to military officials.
The battles in Hawijah were part of an offensive that began on September 29 when the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the launch of the second phase of offensive to dislodge IS militants from their stronghold in the city and surrounding areas.
The operation to free Hawijah came as tensions are running high between Baghdad and the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan after the latter held a controversial independence referendum.
The referendum was widely opposed because it would threaten the integrity of Iraq and could undermine the fight against IS militants.
In addition, neighboring countries such as Turkey, Iran and Syria see that such a step would threaten their territorial integrity, as larger populations of Kurds live in those countries.