Iraqi forces pose in Hawija town in Kirkuk, retaken from ISIS in early October 2017. Photo: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — A joint Iraqi operation to clear remaining ISIS elements in southern and western Kirkuk province as well as surrounding areas is underway on Thursday involving Iraqi armored divisions, the air force, and Iran-backed Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary forces (PMF).
Karim Nuri, a commander of the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi, told Rudaw that the limited military operation is to clear the areas in question of ISIS militants as the group recently launched a series of attacks.
The Iraqi Army's 9th Armored Division is planning a raid to arrest suspected ISIS militants and wanted persons and to impose security over areas of Hawija, Rashad and Riyaz and Zarga its Joint Operations Command announced around noon on Thursday.
All are in the Hawija pocket about 100 kilometers south of Erbil and were some of the last areas cleared in the fall of 2017 before Iraqi Prime Minister declared the defeat of ISIS in Iraq in December .
Ali Husseini, a Hashd al-Shaabi spokesman, said the campaign has started with the air forces largely involved and that it will go as far south as Salahaddin province.
Husseini added the operation aims to target ISIS sleeper cells and wanted suspects in the Hawija, Mount Hamrin and Zarga areas.
Kirkuk province came under the control of Iraqi army and Shiite militias on October 16 after Peshmerga pulled out in the face of a major incursion into the city.
UK Maj. Gen. Felix Gedney, the coalition’s deputy commander of strategy and support, said on December 27 that the US-led international anti-ISIS coalition is “keenly aware” of ISIS remnants and reports of “multiple ISIS terrorists” in the Hamrin Mountains and Hawija.
In nearby Kifri, Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi army were in a tense standoff on December 26.
Later that day, an official from Khanaqin told Rudaw that both sides agreed for the Iraqi army to withdraw to its previous positions and to confront any ISIS movements in the region jointly.
Farhad Rafaat, the head of Crime Prevention Department in Khanaqin said at the time "But for any confrontation and attacks against ISIS, they are ready to support the Iraqi forces.”