Middle East

Anbar to be freed of Islamic State, says Iraq PM

Handout picture of Iraqi PM greeting Sunni volunteers in Anbar province on 8 April 2015 Image copyright EPA
Image caption Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is seeking help from Sunni volunteers to drive IS out of Anbar

Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said the country plans to "liberate" the eastern province of Anbar from Islamic State (IS).

"Our next... battle will be here in the land of Anbar to completely liberate it," his office quoted him as saying.

Military sources say Iraqi troops are fighting IS east of the regional capital Ramadi.

Government forces recaptured Tikrit from IS last week after it fell to the jihadist militants in June.

'Will prevail'

Mr Abadi said in a post on his official Facebook page (in Arabic): "We will prevail in Anbar as we prevailed in Tikrit."

Army officers said IS militants had been driven back in the Sijariya area east of Ramadi.

Anbar, a heavily-Sunni area stretching west from the capital Baghdad to the Syrian border, is the country's biggest province. Most of its towns and cities are held by IS or other Sunni insurgents.

Falluja, a key city in the region overrun by IS, is said to be blockaded on three sides amidst a build-up for an assault.

In addition to Iraqi army units, Shia militia forces are also reported to be moving in to the province from areas to the south of Baghdad.

The use of Shia irregulars in heavily-Sunni heartlands is controversial although PM Abadi is organising the mobilisation and arming of local Sunni tribes, reports the BBC's Middle East correspondent Jim Muir.

Efforts to dislodge Sunni militants from cities like Falluja have failed in the past, so recapturing the whole of the huge Anbar province is clearly a major undertaking, our correspondent notes.

But the government is evidently hoping to keep up the momentum of the defeat inflicted on the militants at Tikrit, he adds.

Iraqi officials have argued for some time that to isolate IS in its bastions along the Syrian border, Anbar should be the next major target either on its own or in a parallel attack on the northern province of Nineveh.

US troops occupied Anbar for eight years, suffering heavy losses in the process to Sunni insurgents.

Troubled history of Anbar province

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption US troops occupied Anbar for eight years, suffering heavy losses in the process
  • Iraq's largest province and its only Sunni-dominated one was occupied by US forces in 2003
  • Hostile to the US, fighting quickly broke out between US troops and the region's Sunni insurgents
  • The worst battle came in 2004 when thousands died as US troops and coalition forces struggled to take the town of Falluja
  • Fighting continued in 2005 and 2006 during which time al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) rose to prominence
  • The US declared victory in 2007 but AQI remained, resuming attacks in 2011 when US troops withdrew
  • AQI, which appears to have now become the Islamic State, and other Sunni insurgents currently control much of the province

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