After driving Daesh out of Nineveh province earlier this year, the Iraqi government set its eyes on Hawija, north of Baghdad, as well as the towns of Al-Qaim, Rawa and Anna in the western desert.
On Tuesday an AFP correspondent who toured the region saw several artillery units positioning themselves around Rawa and Anna, around 100 km from the border with Syria.
Moving in clouds of dust, gunners set up their equipment in the rugged terrain and dug trenches before test-firing mortar rounds.
Further in the distance the infantry deployed, backed by tribal fighters.
Sheikh Qatari Kahlan, who commands one of the tribal units, said his forces were ready for battle.
“All the tribes wanted to take part to liberate the region and fight against Daesh,” he told AFP.
“Tribe members inside Anna and Rawa are giving us information and assuring us that the battle will be ferocious but quick,” he added, pointing an automatic rifle at the horizon.
Up ahead a few palm trees dotted an otherwise desert landscape, through which runs an asphalt road.
An Iraqi general, who refused to be named, estimated that “more than 1,500 terrorists” were in Anna, Rawa and Al-Qaim.
Al-Qaim lies closer to the Syria border and just across from Deir Ezzor province where Daesh men are facing separate offensives from US-led Arab-Kurdish forces and government troops backed by Russia.
The Iraqi general said the battle for the three towns could begin after an expected assault on Hawija or simultaneously.
Another Iraqi commander, Qotaiba Assaad, said he expected the offensive to retake Rawa, Anna and Al-Qaim to be “quick and to our advantage.”