Iraqi forces have recaptured an area east of Ramadi, which was overtaken by "Islamic State" last week. Shiite militias and Baghdad's troops are advancing towards the city in a bid to retake Anbar's provincial capital.
Iraq's security officials said Saturday that the government troops retook some territory in the town of Husaybah in their first counter-attack on "Islamic State" (IS) since the Sunni militant group took control of the provincial capital last week. Husaybah is a strategically important town in the Euphrates Valley, essential for recapturing Ramadi.
Aided by local Shiite militias, Baghdad's forces also successfully repelled an IS assault on the western outskirts of Khaldiya, a town located near the Habbaniya military base in the Anbar province.
Anbar is Iraq's largest province, which stretches from the capital Baghdad to Iraq's Syrian and Jordanian borders.
Iraqi forces retreated from Sunni-dominated Ramadi after the IS launched massive attacks on May 17 to take control of the city.
Another battle for Ramadi
"Military operations to liberate Husaybah, seven kilometers east of Ramadi, have begun," a police official told news agency AFP on Saturday. "So far, the Husaybah police station has been liberated, as well as the area around it. The operation is making significant progress."
Sheikh Rafia Abdelkarim al-Fahdawi, the leader of a local tribe in the area, also confirmed the news. "The operation to take back Husaybah has started, with wide participation from tribal fighters," the Albu Fahd tribe chief told AFP.
Since capturing Ramadi, IS is trying to gain more ground east of the city, as it attacked the Khaldiya town on Saturday.
"Fierce clashes erupted after Daesh elements tried to storm Khaldiya from western direction," a government official said, using the Arabic acronym of IS. "Security forces, backed by tribal fighters, stopped the Daesh progress," he added.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has called on a collective of Shiite paramilitaries to help rescue Ramadi from the jihadists.
The fall of Ramadi is a major setback for the Iraqi government, which is rapidly losing territory to IS. It also cast doubts over the effectiveness of the US-led coalition's airstrikes on the Sunni militants' targets in Iraq and Syria to roll back their advances.
Monitoring groups said on Friday that IS now controlled nearly half of the Syrian territory, and is increasing its influence in major parts of Iraq.
IS now controls "more than 95,000 square kilometers (38,000 square miles) in Syria, which is 50 percent of the country's territory," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights based in Britain said.
Fighters with IS have also consolidated their control of the Iraq-Syria border, and the world-famous Syrian heritage site of Palmyra.
shs/sms (Reuters, dpa, AFP)