Iraq’s armed forces, supported by the Shi’ite militia, attacked Islamic State strongholds north of Baghdad on Monday at the start of a campaign which was aimed at driving them out of the mainly Sunni Muslim province of Salahuddin. Reuters report:
The offensive is the biggest military operation in the province since the Sunni Islamist radicals seized swaths of north Iraq last June and advanced towards the capital Baghdad.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared the start of the Salahuddin operations on Sunday during a visit to the government-held city of Samarra, where some of the thousands of troops and Shi’ite militia had gathered for the offensive.
The pace of their progress in Salahuddin could affect plans to recapture Mosul further north. A U.S. official said the assault on Mosul, the largest city under Islamic State control, could start as early as April but Iraqi officials have declined to confirm that timetable.
In Salahuddin, Islamic State fighters control several strongholds including Tikrit, hometown of executed former president Saddam Hussein and other Tigris river towns.