Iraqi government forces have launched an offensive in Anbar, the country’s largest province, taking positions across multiple fronts.
The Iraqi army was backed by Shi’ite Muslim militias, special forces, police and local Sunni Muslim tribal fighters, according to a spokesman cited by Reuters.
They met heavy resistance from the insurgents who used five suicide car bombs and fired rockets to repel their advance on the city of Falluja, about 50 kilometers west of Baghdad.
Iraqi forces also pushed toward the provincial capital Ramadi from the west and the south.
Islamic State, which captured Ramadi two months ago, said those advances were repelled by the militants.
Until Ramadi’s fall, Iraqi troops and Hashid Shaabi forces backed by US-led air strikes had been pushing Islamic State back, retaking the eastern province of Diyala and former leader Saddam Hussein’s home town of Tikrit, with the ultimate target of recapturing the northern city of Mosul.
Ramadi remains the strategic target but military sources and Shi’ite militia leaders have said the initial focus will be on Falluja, the first city in Iraq to fall under militant control 18 months ago.
A US-led air coalition has been bombing Islamic State positions across Iraq, supporting Baghdad’s ground forces and its poorly equipped air force.
On Sunday, it sharply stepped up air strikes around Ramadi, with 29 out of 39 missions in Iraq targeting Islamic State positions near the city.
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