Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the offensive to liberate Hawija from Islamic State (ISIS) militants will begin in the near future.
Abadi said during a press conference on Tuesday (May 16) the operation to liberate Mosul will end in the coming days and Iraqi forces will begin the operation to regain Hawija.
Hawija, located some 50 km southwest of the city of Kirkuk, became an ISIS stronghold when militants swept across northern and western Iraq in 2014.
Hawija has a population of about 245,000, and is a mostly Sunni-Muslim inhabited district, which has led to dissatisfaction among Sunni officials against any mention of Shia militia participation in the Hawija offensive.
Abadi said Iraqi forces have made good progress in the fight against ISIS militants in Mosul, adding the militant group uses civilians as human shields to extend the war.
Seven months into the U.S.-backed campaign, the militants now control only a few districts in the western half of Mosul including the Old City, where ISIS is expected to make its last stand.
A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition backing Iraqi forces said the enemy was completely surrounded in the city and its fighters and resources were being destroyed. U.S. Air Force Colonel John Dorrian said “The enemy is on the brink of total defeat in Mosul.”
The Iraqi government is pushing to declare victory by the holy month of Ramadan, expected to begin on May 27, even if pockets of resistance remain in the Old City, according to military commanders.
Iraqi commander Yahya Rasul said 16,467 ISIS militants have been killed since the operation to liberate Mosul began in October 2016.
The campaign to capture Mosul started on October 17, with air and ground support from a U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition.
The offensive to take Mosul, the largest city under ISIS control in either Iraq or Syria, is turning into the biggest battle in Iraq’s turbulent history since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.