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Iraqi forces launch ‘large scale’ anti-ISIS air and ground operation in Salahaddin

Iraq’s army and air force have begun a “large scale” operation to clear remnants of the Islamic State (ISIS) from part of Salahaddin province in the north of the country, Iraqi Security Media Cell announced on Sunday.

Iraqi army troops were deployed to the mountain ranges of Makhoul and Khanuka in the north of the province on Sunday morning, the Cell said in a statement.

Ordered by commander in chief Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who is also prime minister of Iraq, the operation will be conducted with cooperation from federal police, parts of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF, also known as Hashd al-Shaabi), as well as air support from the US-led anti-ISIS coalition, the statement added.

“Air force jets and Global Coalition warplanes conducted a series of strikes on terrorist targets in the Khanuka and Makhoul mountain ranges,” Iraqi Security Media Cell said on Twitter on Sunday.

The Cell said in a tweet on Saturday that strikes on Khanuka were conducted by Iraq’s F-16 jets on ISIS targets, with Coalition supervision.

Salahaddin province is home to the air bases of al-Qayyarra, where Iraq’s F-16 jets are stationed, and Balad. Both were handed over by the US-led coalition to Iraqi security force control earlier this year. The province also contains part of a stretch of territory disputed by Erbil and Baghdad.

Dispute over territory has left a security vacuum in some areas of northern Iraq in which ISIS has seen some resurgence. ISIS sleeper cells have been able to conduct kidnappings, arson, and ambushes despite being territorially defeated in Iraq in December 2017.

The anti-ISIS coalition conducted seven strikes on targets in Iraq in September, killing 18 people and destroying six cache sites and four tunnels, the Coalition said in its latest available strike summary report released early last month.

ISIS said in its weekly al-Naba newsletter released on Thursday that it had conducted six operations in Salahaddin province in the week of October 29–November 4. Salahaddin was the second most frequently attacked province in Iraq after Diyala, where ISIS conducted ten attacks that same week, according to the newsletter. Source