Iraqi forces attack IS hideouts in western desert
MOSUL - Iraqi forces have launched a broad operation to root out fighters from the Islamic State group who have been harassing security forces in remote border areas, officers said Thursday.
The army, backed by aircraft from the US-led coalition and local tribal fighters, launched their sweep at dawn in desert areas of Anbar province where the jihadists have hideouts, an army lieutenant colonel said.
"The security forces are advancing from an area called 'Kilometre 160', west of Ramadi, towards Nukhaib," said the officer stationed in Rutba, an outpost that is the last town on the road to Jordan.
Major General Mahmud al-Falahi, the head of Anbar Operations Command, said the goal of the operation is to flush out IS fighters in the desert and secure Rutba.
About 30 members of the security forces have been killed in attacks and ambushes by the jihadists in the Rutba area over the past three weeks.
Anbar is a sprawling desert province traversed by the Euphrates River and borders Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
It has long been an insurgent stronghold, and IS already controlled parts of it when it swept through Iraq in 2014 to take over around a third of the country.
Pro-government forces have since retaken most towns and cities in Anbar, but the jihadists still control areas near the Syrian border and have desert hideouts from which they harass federal forces.
Iraqi forces are also conducting a major operation further north in Anbar aimed at retaking the last towns along the Euphrates still controlled by IS near the Syrian border.
A major offensive launched in October to retake Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, has also made steady gains.