Iraqi military forces backed by Shia volunteer fighters have recaptured 30 villages from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group east of Baghdad, the ministry of defence has said.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Baghdad, said that the army was trying to build “offensive chains” in Diyala province.
“What the Iraqi army is trying to do is to link several villages in the area to make, what could only be described as, an ‘offensive corridor’, where they can cut the ISIL fighters off in the main towns they are in,” he said.
Khan added that the main ISIL strongholds in Diyala province were the towns of Sadiyah, Jalawla and Khanaqin.
An Iraqi soldier told the Reuters news agency that a school in one of the recaptured towns had been used by ISIL as a headquarters and for making explosives.
“As you have seen, ‘blood for blood and destruction for destruction’ was written on outer wall, and this is their flag. These areas have been cleared and, God willing, we will liberate all parts of this dear country,” the soldier said.
The Iraqi army, and allied Shia militias, have been battling ISIL fighters and other armed factions north of Baghdad for nearly four months, vowing to recapture ground they lost, in just a few days, last June.
On Thursday, fighting between the predominantly Sunni ISIL and local Sunni militias raged in the western part of Iraq’s Anbar province, centred around a battle for control of the strategic town of Heet.
Anbar Province, which borders Syria, has been a major stronghold for ISIL and continues to be largely controlled by the group.
ISIL have captured vast swathes of western and northern Iraq including the north’s biggest city Mosul, as well as large areas of the east and north of neighbouring Syria.