Thursday morning, forces from two Iraqi brigades from Iraq’s U.S.-trained 15th Division began the fight against six IS-held villages southeast of .
Also involved were members of Sunni tribes, which many Peshmerga commanders have said are crucial to hold the traditionally Sunni areas.
“Today the Iraqi army started to advance,” Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga General Najat Ali, a commander in the Makhmour area, told VOA.
“They say this is the first step in the liberation of ,” he said, but added that it would be a difficult endeavor.
March 24, 2016 12:05 PM
Iraqi forces, backed by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, have launched what they describe as the first step to take the Islamic State militant group’s stronghold city of .
The general said Peshmerga forces were not actively participating in this particular offensive because it was taking place in traditionally Sunni Arab areas, but that they had provided Iraqi forces with intelligence on the villages.
“We are watching and following,” said Najat Ali.
“Until now they have liberated two villages,” General Ali said, adding that IS had abandoned the villages. He said U.S.-led coalition forces had been supporting the Iraqi army with airstrikes.
Another Peshmerga commander located to the north of said the area the Iraqi army was fighting for included roads connecting the IS stronghold of to other Iraqi cities, as well as the Qayyarah bridge across the Tigris river.
“They are trying to clear this area because it is important,” Peshmerga General Hussein Nooraldin told VOA.
The offensive was launched from Makhmour, where a U.S. Marine was recently killed in an IS rocket attack.
Iraqi forces have been gathering in the area in recent weeks. Makhmour is one of the staging points for the anticipated battle for .
Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey.