Iraqi Forces 'Attack Last IS Bastion on Syria Border'

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"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 ISIS' terrorist groups", he said in a statement.

In addition to the attack on Hawija, the iraqi forces continued their offensive in the desert in the west of the country.

Iraq has launched an offensive to expel Islamic State militants from Hawija, one of the last two areas in the country still held by the jihadists.

Islamic State also controls territory in Syria, along the Iraqi border but it is shrinking fast in the face of a USA -backed Kurdish-led coalition and Russian and Iranian-backed forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. IS has been steadily losing ground and seeing its sprawling caliphate that in 2014 spanned a third of the territory of Iraq and also neighboring Syria crumbling fast.

Iraqi and coalition planes have stepped up a campaign of airstrikes on Hawija earlier this month, targeting ISIS bases and weapons facilities.

In the western Anbar province, Iraqi forces retook the town of Rihana on Wednesday, according to a statement from the coalition.

Peshmerga forces have played a key role in fighting Islamic State, which captured large swathes of Iraqi territory in 2014.

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Islamic State's self-declared caliphate effectively collapsed in July, when USA -backed Iraqi forces captured Mosul, the group's de facto capital in Iraq, after a grueling nine-month battle.

After retaking Ana, the troops will target Rawa, 12km (7.5 miles) to the north, and then al-Qaim, the last town before the border with Syria.

An Iraqi soldier takes up position during a military operation southwest of Fallujah city in the province of Anbar, 23 May 2016. These events of Hawija had been "a turning point in the violence which had led to a re-enable of insurgent groups", had considered a report from the International Crisis Group, in particular, and that extremists linked to Al-Qaeda.

Dillon, the coalition spokesman, said the Kurdish referendum had pulled "resources and focus" away from the fight against IS.

According to Iraqi network NRT, offensives on Shirqat and Kirkuk's Hawija will be launched simultaneously with current push in western Anbar.

"We will annihilate Daesh and prevent their return", he added, referring to IS by its Arabic acronym.

The army's 9th Armored Division and two paramilitary Hashd Shaabi brigades freed 11 villages as they advanced in the rural area in north of the city of Hawijah, some 230 km north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, Lt. Gen. Abdul Amir Yarallah, from the Iraqi Joint Operations Command (JOC), said in a brief statement.

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