Iraqi military and allied fighters have managed to recapture a key district from Daesh Takfiri militants in the Anbar Province west of the country.
The allied forces on Thursday seized al-Muhammadi neighborhood in the city of Hit, which is located northwest of Anbar’s provincial capital of Ramadi.
The operation to retake Muhammadi began earlier in the day, with reports suggesting that members of Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Unit hoisted the Iraqi flag on the rooftop of a government building in the area.
The recapture is seen as a prelude to the full liberation of Hit as Iraqi security forces continue to close in on Daesh militants holed up in the city.
Reports say thousands of civilians have been fleeing Hit, located 145 kilometers (90 miles) west of the capital Baghdad along the Euphrates. The city fell to Daesh in 2014.
The United Nations expressed concern on Thursday that around 35,000 people have been affected by Iraq’s ongoing offensive in Hit, urging officials to facilitate the humanitarian staff’s access to hard-reached areas.
“The UN doesn’t have full access and we are very worried that some of the families who are escaping are in areas very close to the front lines,” the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, Lise Grande, said in a statement, adding, “The mobile clinics dealt with 1,300 consultations during just their first two days.”
The gain in Hit is the latest for Iraq in Anbar after the government managed to recapture Ramadi in late December. A major offensive is also planned for retaking Fallujah, located north of Ramadi.
Military sources say Fallujah’s liberation will be followed by the long-anticipated offensive to retake Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province in the north. Nineveh is viewed as the stronghold of Daesh in Iraq.
A major defense and security agency monitoring conflicts in the Middle East said on Wednesday that Daesh has lost around 22 percent of the territory it used to control in Iraq and Syria. IHS Jane’s, based in the United States, said between January 1 and December 15, 2015, Daesh lost control of 14 percent of its territory while a new analysis said the group has lost a further eight percent over the last three months, most of it being in the Iraqi territory of Anbar.
Iraq’s drive to purge Anbar from Daesh would largely boost security across the country as militants from the sprawling province continue to launch attacks on civilians and security forces.
The UN said in its Thursday statement that more than 50,000 people have been internally displaced in Anbar since the start of 2016 as a result of intense fighting between the government and militants. Also, the International Organization for Migration said more than 1.5 million people were displaced in Anbar since the beginning of 2014.