Iraqi forces repel IS attacks, as troops prepare for major offensive

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RAMADI, Iraq, May 19 (Xinhua) — Iraqi security forces on Tuesday repelled the Islamic State (IS) attacks in Iraq’s western province of Anbar, while military preparations continued for a major counter-offensive to recapture the provincial capital city of Ramadi that fell in the hands of the IS militants after deadly battles in the past few days, a provincial security source said.

The troops and Shiite militias, known as Hashd Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization, along with allied Sunni tribal fighters, repelled attacks by the IS militants on the edge of the town of Khaldiyah, some 80 km west of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, and the nearby areas of Mudheij and Abu Flies, the source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

Sporadic clashes also occurred when the IS militants attacked the villages of the Sunni tribe of Albu Fahad outside Khaldiyah, where the tribal fighters repelled the attackers, the source said without giving further details.

Khaldiyah and villages on the main road to Ramadi are redoubts of the government-backed Sunni tribe of Albu Fahad, which mobilized some 4,000 of its tribesmen to defend their homes against the attacks by the IS extremist militants.

The battles on the edge of Khaldiyah and the presence of hundreds of troops and militiamen turned the town to be a battleground and forced hundreds of families in the town to flee their homes, the source added.

The huge military airbase of Habbaniyah, just near Khaldiyah, came under heavy barrage of rockets and mortar rounds during the past 24 hours, the source said without giving details about casualties.

After the fall of Ramadi, some 110 km west of Baghdad, thousands of security forces and allied Shiite militias moved from the capital of Baghdad and other Iraqi provinces to converge at Habbaniyah, as columns of armored vehicles and tanks were on Monday heading to the base, while some of the Shiite militia leaders, including the supervisor of the Hashd Shaabi Hadi al-Ameri, arrived late on Sunday with long line of trucks carrying heavy machine guns and rockets, rising different flags of their militias along with the Iraqi one.

Separately, the IS militants seized a military base in west of the IS-held city of Ramadi after they carried out three suicide car bombings while many other militants stormed the base, leaving at least 14 security members killed and ten others injured, the source said.

Meanwhile, Iraqi helicopter gunships pounded a car bomb factory in the industrial district in the militant-seized city of Fallujah, some 50 km west of Baghdad, killing six militants and wounding nine others, along with destroying two booby-trapped cars, the source added.

Also in Fallujah, artillery and mortar shelling some neighborhoods of the city left at least two people killed and three others injured, the source said.

Late Sunday, the IS militants took full control of Ramadi after a series of attacks since Thursday night, pushing the Iraqi security forces to withdraw from their positions in the headquarters of the army’s 8th Brigade and the provincial operations command.

According to media reports, initial estimates said up to 500 people, including civilians, were killed, since the beginning of the battles in Ramadi late Thursday and some 8,000 people were displaced from their homes in the city.

The rapid retreat of the security forces and allied Sunni militias pushed Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also the commander-in-chief of Iraqi armed forces, to order the mainly Shiite militias of Hashd Shaabi to prepare to participate in battles against IS militants in Anbar, ignoring U.S. concerns that the presence of Shiite militias could spark sectarian strife.

The IS group has seized most of Anbar province and tried to advance toward Baghdad during the past few months, but several counter attacks by security forces and Shiite militias have pushed them back.

The security situation in Iraq has drastically deteriorated since last June, when bloody clashes broke out between Iraqi security forces and IS militants.

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