ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Military preparations for a massive assault to drive Islamic State (ISIS) militants out of Hawija in southern Kirkuk province have finished and a timeframe for the offensive has been set, according to military officials.
Three divisions and 11 brigades of the Iraqi army have been given the green light to sweep into eastern Shargat, where Hawija is located. The operation will be conducted from three directions.
“With the help of God, after we build a bridge on the Tigris riverbank, we will be able to control the eastern side of Shargat,” said Brig. Gen. Shukr Jomaa, commander of the Iraqi army’s 73 brigade.
He described the morale of ISIS militants on the eastern side of Shargat as “zero.”
ISIS has planted a myriad of booby traps and landmines, but Iraqi soldiers insist they will not be deterred as the militants must be driven out of eastern Shargat and then from Hawija, about 65 kilometres west of Kirkuk.
“We are ready in the best way. We have to carry out the battle in this region and we will make sure that we will prevail. The army and [Shiite militia] of the Hashd al-Shaabi are ready,” Saed Ghalib Yasiri, commander of the Hashd al-Shaabi, told Rudaw.
The eastern side of Shargat has been besieged for nine days and the three towns of Riaz, Rashad, and Hawija, still held by the radical group, have been surrounded by Iraqi and Peshmerga forces for a month.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces have also insisted that they will take part in the battle to liberate Hawija, moving forward from areas under their control in the province.
The recapture of Shargat town in September was on step on the road to Mosul. Iraqi and coalition officials have expressed confidence that the assault on the militants in that key city will begin before the end of the year.