Last Thursday, the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the launch of the operations to liberate the city of Hawija from ISIS militants. Since then, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have made steady gains against the militants in the surrounding countryside.
The city, which fell to the militants in 2014, remains one of the last major population centres in Iraq still under ISIS control. Although the militants likely had time to entrench their positions, Iraqi security officials do not anticipate the type of intense resistance that has characterised the battles in Fallujah or Mosul. The militants have reportedly been exhausted and demoralised by months of fighting and the loss of Mosul. If the rapid collapse of ISIS lines in the city of Tal Afar is any indication, the militant resistance will not hold in Hawija.
The ISF plans to make a multi-pronged approach into Hawija from the towns of Shirqat, Fathah, Kasbah Bashir, al-Shak and Sdaydat. The main goal is to secure the countryside immediately east of Shirqat, including the villaged of al-Fathah, al-Zab, al-Rashad and al-Abbasi. The Iraqi Army, the Iraqi Federal Police and the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) are all participating in the joint offensive to liberate the city. Although the Kurdish Peshmerga control the countryside to the north, no coordination between the Peshmerga and the ISF has yet taken place due to the tensions surrounding the Kurdish Independence Referendum that took place on Monday.
The 9th Company of the Iraqi Army, backed by the PMU have already taken control of numerous villages along the northwestern axis of the ISIS-controlled region, liberating Upper Knaus, Shirawah, Tuina, Hamed Steer and northern Hayawi, among others. The Iraqi Government also announced that it will launch a separate offensive along the eastern axis with the goal of cutting the region off from the Kirkuk and Salah ad-Din.
Outside Hawija, ISIS militants still control parts of the western Anbar countryside along the Iraqi-Syrian Border. In conjunction with Hawija, the ISF has launched a series of operations in Anbar as well with the goal of fully clearing Iraq of ISIS militants by the end of 2017.