The Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) group is continuing to advance across Iraq's Anbar province after consolidating its grip on areas around the recently seized city of Ramadi.
ISIL was pushing further east of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, on Saturday, taking the town of Husaybah. There was also fierce fighting in Khalidiya, a town just a few kilometres from the Habbaniyah military base.
"ISIL wants to take control of this base which would serve as a staging ground for the Iraqi army and Shia paramilitary forces when they launch a counter-offensive against the group," Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, reporting from Baghdad, said.
Shia militias and the Iraqi army were being deployed to Khalidiya on Saturday, in a strategic move aimed at preventing ISIL from advancing on Habbaniyah, our correspondent said.
The spokesperson for the Popular Mobilisation Forces, an umbrella organisation for Shia militiamen, told Al Jazeera the counter-offensive against ISIL would begin in the coming days.
He said thousands of troops were expected to be involved.
ISIL has also opened a new front in the town of Haditha, the only significant town in government hands in western Anbar, targeting a number of government checkpoints.
US strategy criticised
ISIL seized towns and cities in northern Iraq last summer and have since expanded their territory in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.
A US-led coalition has since launched air strikes in a bid to stop the group's advance, with limited success.
On Thursday, ISIL took over the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. The last government-held border post between the two countries has also fallen.
The US administration has downplayed ISIL's recent gains but calls are growing for a review of the strategy against the group.
The Iraqi vice president, Ayad Allawi, has said publicly that the aerial campaign is simply not working.
"There are no good news from the international coalition, and there is no strategy, so I asked the Iraqi leaders to put a strategy together and to present it to the coalition," he said. "The international coalition meets but without any results, the air strikes do not solve the problem."
Sunni politicians say they will only aid efforts to combat ISIL if they get larger say in the running of the country.
"Sunnis want to take control of their own territories, govern their own territories, be responsible for their own security," our correspondent said. "For them, this is the way forward. But there is opposition in Baghdad."
Source: Al Jazeera