A large-scale military operation against Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq's beleaguered Anbar Province may begin soon, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq has reported.
The deputy head of Anbar's provincial council, Faleh al-Issawi, told Radio Free Iraq on March 9 that an extended military operation to liberate towns and areas in Anbar from the militants was expected to commence soon.
According to Issawi, the military operations against the IS group in neighboring Salah al-Din Province had affected the situation in Anbar.
Iraqi forces, backed by Iran, launched an operation last week to rout IS militants in the largely Sunni city of Tikrit in Salah al-Din Province. The Tikrit offensive, which involves large numbers of Shi'ite militiamen, is the first real test of the Iraqi government's ability to retake a major city from the militants.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said on March 2 that the Iraqi Army was preparing to liberate Anbar Province.
Issawi's comments about an imminent military operation in Anbar followed reports on March 6 that Iraqi forces backed by U.S.-led air strikes had pushed IS militants out of the western Anbar township of Baghdadi.
The militants had overran Baghdadi last month. The town is about 8 kilometers from the Al-Asad military base where U.S. troops are training Iraqi soldiers.
RFE/RL's correspondent in Iraq reported on March 8 that Iraqi security forces now control almost all of Baghdadi's districts. The security forces have cleared mines and explosive devices left by militants in districts of the town on the opposite bank of the Euphrates. Fighting continued on March 8 in the township's Bu-Hayyat area, however.
Iraqi forces on March 8 also continued to battle militants in the township of Garma, with reports that the security forces had managed to take control of areas northeast of the town and in the township's southeastern districts, according to RFE/RL's correspondent. Iraqi forces had launched an offensive to retake the area northeast of Garma on March 7.
Ahead of any large-scale offensive in Anbar, and though reports from Tikrit indicate that the offensive is making progress -- so far, Iraqi forces and pro-government militias have succeeded in pushing out IS militants from two key areas near Tikrit -- the U.S. military has said that the real test for Iraq will be after the offensive.
"If the Sunni population is then allowed to continue to live its life the way it wants to, and can come back to their homes...then I think we're in a really good place," General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on March 7.
Analyst Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has also warned that the IS group cannot be defeated in Iraq by military force alone, but that military force must be "tied to a civil-military strategy that offers the best possible hope of producing a stable and friendly nation."
-- Joanna Paraszczuk