Iraqi security forces and pro-government fighters have retaken areas near the Iranian border that the Islamic State jihadist group had held for months.
The operation, launched early Sunday northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province, is the latest in a series of drives that have seen some territory lost to a sweeping IS-led June offensive being regained.
“Army and police and (militia) forces attacked from the southern and western sides of the Jalawla and Saadiyah (areas), while (Kurdish) peshmerga forces attacked from the northern and eastern sides of Saadiyah,” Staff General Abdulamir al-Zaidi said.
Accounts differed as to the extent of the gains in the two areas, with some sources saying they had been retaken and others reporting they were still partly outside government control.
Karim al-Nuri, a senior commander in the Badr militia which took part in the operation, said 12 members of the anti-IS forces were killed by bombs.
Explosive devices hidden beside or under roads and planted in buildings are a hallmark of IS, taking a toll on its enemies even after it withdraws from area.
An army brigadier general said Saadiyah and Jalawla were “the main centres of support for (IS) militants” whom security forces are seeking to isolate in the nearby Hamreen mountains.
The two areas are also important because of their proximity to the autonomous Kurdish region which is battling the jihadists, and to the border with neighbouring Iran which is also helping Iraqi forces.
Sunday’s operation came on the heels of another that saw the strategic northern town of Baiji retaken from the militants and a months-long siege of Iraq’s largest refinery broken.
Security forces and pro-government fighters also retook the Jurf al-Sakhr area south of Baghdad, which had posed a threat to both the capital and the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, which millions of pilgrims visit each year.
However, the militants sill hold large areas of the country, including the key cities of Mosul, Tikrit and Fallujah.