Iraq forces in major push against IS in Anbar

OFFENSIVE. Iraqi forces are trying to retake Hit, a city in the province of Anbar, from the Islamic State. The jihadist group still holds most of the province but the noose is tightening around some of its key bastions.

Photo by Moadh Al-Dulaimi/AFP

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi forces have launched a broad offensive to retake the city of Hit from the Islamic State group in the western province of Anbar, a top commander said Saturday, March 19.

Led by the elite Counter-Terrorism Service, forces from the police, army and local tribal fighters were making a final push to retake Hit, 145 kilometers (90 miles) west of Baghdad.

"They have begun a broad operation to liberate Hit and Kubaysa," Major General Ali Ibrahim Daboun, the head of the Al-Jazeera Operations Command, told AFP.

Kubaysa is a smaller town a few miles west of Hit, which the jihadists have controlled since October 2014.

Daboun said Iraqi aircraft and jets from the US-led international coalition were providing air support.

Al-Asad military air base, which houses a large contingent of US and other foreign military advisers, lies around 35 kilometers northwest of Hit.

After launching a final push against IS in provincial capital Ramadi late last year, Iraq's security forces established full control over the city last month.

Aid agencies have voiced concern over the fate of an estimated 35,000 civilians who have fled Hit and its surroundings in the run-up to this latest military offensive.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said late Friday, March 18, that thousands of freshly displaced people were stranded in areas where very little assistance is available.

The organization said it was able to deliver aid for the first time on Friday to around 12,000 people west of Ramadi.

"We don't know how they managed to survive. Repeated access is crucial in order to help the remaining thousands of people who urgently need humanitarian aid," said Katharina Ritz, head of the ICRC delegation in Iraq.

IS still controls vast areas of Anbar province near the borders with Jordan and Syria, as well as the city of Fallujah, which is only 50 kilometers from Baghdad. – Rappler.com