Iraq launches offensive to liberate northern Hawijah from Daesh
Iraqi armed forces have launched a massive offensive to liberate the town of Hawijah in the oil-rich northern province of Kirkuk, one of the last remaining Daesh bastions in the Arab country.
“At the dawn of a new day, we announce the launch of the first stage of the liberation of Hawija, in accordance with our commitment to our people to liberate all Iraqi territory and eradicate Daesh’s terrorist groups,” said Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in a statement on Thursday.
“Greetings to all of our forces, who are waging several battles of liberation at the same time and who are winning victory after victory and this will be another, with the help of God,” he added.
Five areas in the operation zone have reportedly been liberated since the early hours of the day.
The Iraqi forces are backed by Popular Mobilization Units, known as Hashed al-Sha’abi, in their operation.
The UN has predicted that over 85,000 people could be displaced during the operation.
Daesh terrorists took control of Hawijah after capturing Mosul and several other Iraqi cities in mid-2014.
Hawijah is one of four Iraqi towns still controlled by Daesh. The other three towns of al-Qa’im, located nearly 400 kilometers northwest of Baghdad near the Syrian border, Anah and Rawa are in Anbar Province.
The operation comes only a few days before the planned Kurdish independence referendum in northern Iraq that has seen strong opposition from the Baghdad government, Iran, Turkey, Syria, the United States and the United Nations.
It is still unclear if the planned referendum in Kirkuk would be affected by the offensive on Hawija, which is likely to cause an outflow of refugees toward the neighboring areas.
Local officials of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region have vowed to go ahead with the vote in defiance on international opposition.