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Iraq announces military operation to recapture Anbar province

Iraq has launched a military operation meant to retake control of the country's western Anbar province. "Islamic State" militants began gaining ground there last year, before seizing Ramadi this month.

International news agencies quoted Iraqi state television which announced the start of the military campaign in which it said troops from the country's army would be supported by both Shiite and Sunni paramilitary forces.

The state television report did not say how long it expected the army to take to accomplish the feat, nor did it provide any further details.

The announced offensive comes after "Islamic State" militant forces seized control of Anbar's provincial capital, Ramadi, several days ago. This was the culmination of a push into the province which began in early 2014. The defeat of the Iraqi army in Ramadi is widely regarded as a major defeat for the country's military and has helped spark something of a diplomatic spat with Washington.

'No will to fight' spat

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter

said on Sunday that in the battle for Ramadi, Iraqi forces had "vastly outnumbered" IS fighters but had failed to hold the city because they had displayed "no will to fight."

Iraqi officials expressed surprise at Carter's statement, with a spokesman for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi saying the US defense secretary "was likely given incorrect information."

On Monday,

US Vice President Joe Biden used a telephone conversation with al-Abadi

to try to smooth over tensions.

"The vice president recognized the enormous sacrifice and bravery of Iraqi forces over the past 18 months in Ramadi and elsewhere," a statement released by the White House afterwards said.

Separately, the Associated Press quoted an unnamed senior US official who, referring to IS by an alternative acronym, said that the United States would "do all we can to help the brave Iraqi forces, including the tribes of Anbar, secure the province from ISIL terrorists."

pfd/ng (AP, Reuters, dpa)

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