Iraqi forces launched a final assault on Wednesday to capture the town of Hawija, one of two pockets of territory in Iraq still under ISIS control, the country’s military said in a statement.
Iraqi state TV broadcast live footage showing the area covered by thick black smoke, rising from oil wells torched by the militants as a tactic to prevent air detection. Hawija is located near the oil city of Kirkuk, in northern Iraq.
The offensive on Hawija is being carried out by US-backed Iraqi government troops and Iranian-trained and armed Shi’ite paramilitary groups known as Popular Mobilization.
They began moving on the town of Hawija two days after capturing the Rashad air base, 30 km (20 miles) to the south and used by the militants as a training and logistics site.
Iraq launched an offensive on Sept. 21 to dislodge ISIS from Hawija and surrounding areas where up to 78,000 people could be trapped, according to the United Nations.
Iraqi security officials say the militants are preventing some residents from leaving, while others are afraid of escaping towards government forces because of explosives that might have been laid by ISIS around the town.
The other area of the country still under the control of the militant group is a stretch of land along the Syrian border, in western Iraq, including the border town of al-Qaim.
The militants also hold the Syrian side of the border at al-Qaim, but the area under their control is shrinking as they retreat in the face of two different sets of hostile forces -- a US-backed, Kurdish-led coalition, and Syrian government troops with foreign Shi’ite militias backed by Iran and Russia.
ISIS’s cross-border “caliphate” effectively collapsed in July, when US-backed Iraqi forces captured Mosul, the group’s de facto capital in Iraq, in a grueling battle which lasted nine months.
The militants’ leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who declared the caliphate from Mosul in mid-2014, released an audio recording last week that indicated he was still alive. He called on his followers to keep up the fight despite the setbacks.
Was ISIS claim for Las Vegas attack ‘fake news’?Claims of responsibility for terror attacks by the ISIS group were once seen as credible, but in the wake of the Las Vegas atrocity, experts stress ... Digital
ISIS claims deadly suicide attack in Syrian capitalThe ISIS group on Tuesday claimed responsibility for a pair of suicide bombings in the Syrian capital that killed 17 civilians and policemen the ... Middle East
59 dead, over 527 hurt in Las Vegas shooting as ISIS claims attackA gunman has killed at least 59 people and wounded more than 527at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip on Sunday, shooting down from the ... World News
Investigation source: No link so far between Marseille knifeman and ISISFrench investigators probing a knife attack in Marseille at the weekend have not found any link so far between the assailant and ISIS, a source close ... World News