Government troops and Shia militias begin operation in bid to retake provincial capital Ramadi from armed group
Iraqi forces have launched a counter-offensive to retake areas of Anbar province recently captured by fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Baghdad, said on Tuesday that the first city likely to face an assault from the Iraqi forces, made up of government soldiers and Shia militias, is Anbar’s capital Ramadi – which fell to ISIL fighters earlier this month.
“This is likely to be a very protracted battle – but it is under way,” our correspondent reported, adding that the battle to control the major highways in the province would be key.
Thousands of government troops and fighters from allied Shia militias under the Popular Mobilisation Forces banner have been gathering at the Habbaniyah military base in preparation for the counter-offensive since Ramadi fell on May 17.
Since then, Iraq and the US have traded blows over who was to blame for the failure to maintain control of the provincial capital, which had been just a few towns and cities to remain under government control in mainly Sunni Anbar.
“The Iraqis have got a very big point to prove that they can retake this province,” the Al Jazeera correspondent said.
Many tribal leaders in Anbar have voiced concerns that the inclusion of Shia militias in the fight could cause sectarian divisions in the province.
Tens of thousands of residents from Ramadi have fled the city in recent weeks, causing a humanitarian crisis.