Iraqi forces launched a final assault on Wednesday to capture Hawija, one of two pockets of territory in Iraq still under Daish control, entering the town’s outskirts after several hours of fighting, military commanders said.
Iraqi state TV broadcast live footage showing the area covered by thick black smoke, which rose from oil wells torched by the militants as a tactic to prevent detection from the air. Hawija is located near the oil city of Kirkuk, in northern Iraq.
Seven hours into the operation, Iraqi forces riding in armoured vehicles and under helicopter cover broke into the Askari and Nidaa neighbourhoods on the western side of the city, a military commander said.
The offensive on Hawija is being carried out by US-backed Iraqi government troops and armed paramilitary groups known as Popular Mobilisation.
“The army, the Federal Police, the Emergency Response division and Popular Mobilisation stormed Hawija, inflicting human and material losses onto the enemy, and progress is continuing,” said a statement of joint operations commander, Lieutenant-General Abdul Ameer Rasheed Yarallah.
They began moving on the town of Hawija two days after capturing the Rashad air base, 30km to the south and used by the militants as a training and logistics site.
Iraqi security officials say the militants are preventing some residents from leaving, while others are afraid of escaping towards government forces because of explosives that might have been laid by Daish around the town.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has captured about 90 per cent of Raqa and is fighting fierce battles with remaining Daish militants. Daish’s other main stronghold in Syria is the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, which borders Daish-held territory in Iraq.