Iraqi forces push north in anti-IS offensive


Family members of victims of battles against the Islamic State (IS) militants participate in a rally demanding Kurds to unify efforts to fight against IS militants in the city of Kirkuk, Iraq, Oct. 13, 2015. (Xinhua/Ako Zangana) TIKRIT, Iraq, Oct. 18 (Xinhua) -- Iraqi security forces on Sunday pressed their major offensive against positions of Islamic State (IS) militants and made a new advance to the oil refinery town of Baiji, a provincial security source said. The troops and allied Shiite and Sunni paramilitary units, known as Hashd Shaabi, began their advance at about 6:00 a.m. local time (0300 GMT) in two areas, one focused on the IS positions inside the battleground town of Baiji, some 200 km north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, while another advance was across Himreen rugged areas toward the IS stronghold town of Hawijah, some 90 km west of Iraq's northern city of Kirkuk, the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.
The troops in Baiji are moving from four directions toward the central part of the town, as the IS militants' resistance has become weaker and almost absent in some areas after many of extremist militants fled the town toward the north, the source said.

On the other hand, thousands of the troops and Hashd Shaabi units covered by Iraqi and international aircraft started their progress from Fat'ha area, some 40 km north of Baiji, and advanced in the southwestern part of the oil-rich Kirkuk province after they crossed the rugged areas in Himreen, the source added.

The troops, hundreds of them from the Sunni tribes of IS-held town of Hawijah, managed to seize al-Ramul village and then moved toward the IS stronghold in Hawijah to free it from the extremist militants, as well as the town of Riyadh near Hawijah, the source said.

Late on Saturday night, the troops seized several villages in west of Tigris River and vowed to push on to the IS stronghold in the city of Shirqat, 280 km north of Baghdad, which also located near the border with the neighboring province of Nineveh, the source added.

Earlier, the troops retook control of Iraq's largest oil refinery near Baiji and the town of Seiniyah, just west of Baiji while fierce clashes continued inside the Baiji itself.

The battles in Salahudin province are part of the second phase of major offensive announced late on Monday by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also Commander-in-chief of Iraqi armed forces, aimed at freeing towns seized by the IS group since June 2014 in the northern part of Salahudin province.

Salahudin, a predominantly Sunni province with its capital of Tikrit, some 170 km north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, is the hometown of former President Saddam Hussein.