Baghdad (AFP) - Iraqi forces on Monday launched an attack against jihadist-held areas southeast of the Islamic State group's bastion of Hawija, the operations commander said.
Government forces and the Hashed al-Shaabi, an alliance mostly of Shiite militias, are fighting to retake the northern town of Hawija after expelling IS from large parts of the territory they seized in Iraq in 2014.
"The Counter-Terrorism Service and Hashed al-Shaabi have started a broad operation to liberate Rashad and nearby villages as part of the second phase to liberate Hawija," Lieutenant General Abdel Amir Yarallah said.
The Hashed al-Shaabi confirmed the offensive and said it had retaken five villages west of Rashad, which is 35 kilometres (20 miles) southeast of Hawija.
On September 21, Iraqi forces backed by a US-led coalition launched an offensive to retake a jihadist enclave around Hawija, swiftly taking the town of Sharqat on its second day before pushing on towards Hawija itself.
On Friday, they started the battle to retake the town itself, one of the last IS bastions in the country along with a stretch of the Euphrates Valley near the border with Syria.