At least 73 people die in government strikes on a cafe in Ramadi, and in army shelling in northern Fallujah.
Iraqi troops backed by mainly Shia militias have launched offensive to recapture the Anbar province from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a military statement broadcast on state television said.
The announcement of the offensive comes two months after ISIL seized Anbar’s capital, Ramadi, extending their control over the Sunni Muslim province west of Baghdad.
“At 5 o’clock this morning operations to liberate Anbar were launched,” said a joint military command statement read out on state television.
It said the offensive was being carried out by the army, mainly Shia militia known as Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) units, special forces, police and local Sunni Muslim tribal fighters.
The statement gave no other details, but military officers and Hashid Shaabi commanders have said the initial target will be the city of Falluja, about 50 km west of Baghdad.
Hadi al-Ameri, commander of the largest Shia force, the Badr Organisation, told Iraqi television on Sunday he expected the main assault on Falluja to take place after the Eid holiday at the end of Ramadan, later this week.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from the capital, Baghdad, said the offensive involves at least 5,000 troops.
“We are hearing the province will be surrounded on three sides going up to the border with Syria. They have announced operations like this one in the past particularly in Ramadi when it was taken by ISIL forces in mid-May. And that’s a battle that’s still ongoing,” Khan said.
“It is likely that this operation will concentrate on the second city in Anbar province, Fallujah, and move further west. While this is going on, we have also heard coalition airstrikes have hit an ISIL media and radio station in Anbar province,” Khan added.
Residents in Fallujah and Ramadi reported heavy bombardment of their cities early on Monday. Security sources said ISIL fighters also fired rockets and launched several vehicle bombs against army positions.