BAGHDAD • Iraqi security forces have seized two oil fields in the second phase of an offensive to dislodge ISIS militants from their northern stronghold of Hawijah, the military said yesterday.
Security forces managed to free the oil fields of Allas and Ajil in the eastern part of Iraq's northern central province of Salahudin, after two days of clashes with militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a source from Salahudin Operations Command told Xinhua.
By Saturday evening, the troops had recaptured all the wells of the two oil fields and seized the nearby Himreen mountain range in the south of the ISIS-held city of Hawijah, which is located some 230km north of Baghdad in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, the source said.
Before the offensive, ISIS had controlled roughly half of the oil fields' 200 wells. They were an important source of funding for the group, which extracted about 10,000 barrels per day and transported them to other areas under its control.
But ISIS' primitive methods of extracting and refining crude oil polluted nearby valleys with leaked oil, the military source said. Some of the wells have been on fire since ISIS took the area in 2014, he added.
The battles in the oil fields were part of an offensive launched last Friday by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
"We announce the start of the second phase of the liberation of Hawijah and all the surrounding areas to the west of Kirkuk, and as promised the sons of our country are continuing to liberate every inch of the land of Iraq and crush the gangs of terrorist Daesh group," Mr Abadi said in a statement, using another acronym for ISIS.
The first phase of the operation was launched on Sept 21.
A top commander said the second phase aims to retake Hawijah and the nearby towns of Al-Abbasi, Riyadh and Rashad.
All are mainly Sunni Arab towns that have long been bastions of insurgency and were bypassed by government forces in their push north on Mosul last year that culminated in ISIS' defeat in their most emblematic stronghold this July.
The operation to free Hawijah came amid tensions between the Baghdad government and the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, after the Kurdish region held a controversial referendum on its independence, including in disputed areas like Kirkuk.
Meanwhile in Syria, ISIS is facing rival offensives by American-backed fighters and Russian-backed government forces. The extremists launched a counteroffensive against government forces last Thursday, killing at least 73 troops and militia in a series of attacks along their supply lines, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
XINHUA, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE