Baghdad: Iraqi security forces are planning an imminent major offensive against Islamic State (IS) militants in the northern central province of Salahudin, a provincial security source said Wednesday.
Artillery bombardment began late Tuesday night on the militants-held areas, including the provincial capital city of Tikrit and nearby towns of Alam and Dowr, in addition to areas north of Shia shrine city of Samarra, some 120 km north of Baghdad, the source told Xinhua news agency on condition of anonymity.
“The offensive could be launched within the coming 72 hours,” the source said.
He said that reinforcement troops, allied militias, tanks and armoured vehicles arrived Tuesday from the neighbouring province of Diyala to support government troops’ advance from the east toward the vital area of al-Fatha north of the refinery town of Baiji, some 200 km north of Baghdad, in order to cut the supplies of the IS militants.
The offensive is designed to sweep all redoubts of the IS militants across the province in order to prevent the militants from manoeuvring with their groups and to surround them, the source added.
The latest bombardment forced dozens of families to leave their homes in Tikrit and Albu-Ajil, he said, adding that intelligence reports said that the families included those with sons collaborating with extremist militants during the past few months.
However, the source anticipated no “fierce and bloody battles” because many of the extremist militants and their families have already fled their homes and hideouts in the province and mainly headed to the northern city of Mosul.
“In most cases, the IS militants left some small groups and suicide bombers in addition to hundreds of roadside bombs and booby-trapped houses and vehicles in provincial cities and towns with the aim of obstructing the troops’ advance and causing heavy casualties among them,” he added.
Tikrit, the capital city of the predominantly Sunni province of Salahudin, is the hometown of former president Saddam Hussein.
Security has been worsening in Iraq since June 10, when bloody clashes broke out between Iraqi security forces and Sunni militants, who took control of the country’s northern city of Mosul and the later swathes of territories in Nineveh and other predominantly Sunni provinces.