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Iraqi forces launch assault for last Daesh bastions in Anbar

Iraqi forces, backed by paramilitary units, advance against one of Daesh’s last bastions in the western province of Anbar. (AFP)
AL-SAGARA, Iraq: Iraqi security forces and paramilitary units have launched a dawn assault against one of Daesh’s last bastions in the vast western province of Anbar bordering Syria.
The Joint Operations Command, which is coordinating Iraqi security forces battling Daesh, said an offensive had begun to retake the town of Anna and the nearby village of Al-Rayhanna.
“Infantry units and armor backed by the Hashed Al-Shaabi began an offensive to liberate Anna and Al-Rayhanna from Daesh terrorists,” Gen. Abdelamir Yarallah, JOC head, said in a statement.
A general in the area said the operation was “developing along three axes” involving the army, police and the Hashed Al-Shaabi, a paramilitary force composed largely of Iran-trained Shiite militias.
The operation was supported by Iraqi army helicopters and warplanes from the US-led coalition battling Daesh in Iraq and Syria, the general said.
The head of Anna’s municipal council, Abdel Karim Al-Ani, confirmed the start of the offensive and said security forces had opened a road out of the town to allow civilians to flee.
Anna, about 100 km west of the border with Syria, is one of three towns in Anbar province under Daesh control.
After retaking the town, Iraqi forces are expected to next target Rawa to the northwest and finally Al-Qaim, which is close to the border with the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor.
Three years after Daesh took control of large parts of Syria and Iraq, Iraqi forces are pushing to retake all areas seized by the terrorists, scoring their biggest victory in July with the recapture of second city Mosul.
Iraq is preparing to launch an assault against another of the terrorists’ final strongholds, the town of Hawija about 300 km north of Baghdad.
Security sources said two suicide bombers killed at least three people and wounded 34 on Tuesday in a northern Iraq restaurant frequented by militiamen battling Daesh.
The bombers struck in the town of Hajjaj, in Salaheddin province between the cities of Tikrit and Baiji.
“Two attackers detonated their explosive belts in a restaurant in Hajjaj, killing three people and wounding 34,” interior ministry spokesman Saad Maan said in a statement.
“A third assailant was shot dead by the security forces.”
A police lieutenant colonel said the restaurant was frequented by members of the Hashed Al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization), a paramilitary force mainly composed of Iran-trained militias.
There was no immediate claim for Tuesday’s bombings.
The bombings came just five days after a gun and bomb attack on a restaurant and nearby checkpoint in southern Iraq killed 84 people, the deadliest assault claimed by the terrorists since their defeat in second city Mosul in July.
Last Thursday’s attack in the southern city of Nasiriyah was swiftly claimed by Daesh.

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