Iraq launches Iranian-backed offensive to oust Isis from Anbar

Iraqi troops supported by Iranian-backed Shiite militias have launched a military operation to recapture the country's biggest province, Anbar, from Isis, the military announced on state television.

The military announced that the operation against Isis would see the Shiite-majority Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) mainly carry out the operations on the ground, but also included Iraqi troops, special forces, police and a number of Sunni tribesmen.

"At 5 o'clock this morning operations to liberate Anbar were launched," the military statement read.

The military is to make a bid to recapture the city of Fallujah first before moving on to Ramadi, the capital of Anbar, military sources told Reuters, adding that forces had already faced five suicide bombs in an attempt to halt the advance.

In a statement also read out on state TV, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that the terror group is facing "defeats after defeats" against Baghdad's forces.

"We will punish the criminals of Isis in the battlefields," he said. "The heroes of our security forces, the public mobilization units and the tribal sons are causing Isis terrorists defeats after defeats."

Sajad Jiyad, Iraq expert and research director at the independent consultancy Integrity, says that the operation for Fallujah has been aided by Shiite militias tightening the knot on the city from the east, north and west but could take longer than projected because of the challenges faced in retaking an Isis-held city.

"It's going to be a difficult operation because [Fallujah] is not deserted, it's not Tikrit," he says. "Some civilians are still in there and some are pro-Daesh [an Arabic term for Isis]. It will involve street battles and airstrikes."

"I think it's possible to defeat Daesh within the next two weeks," he adds. "It should not take too long in terms of militarily defeating Daesh but defusing the IEDs and controlling the city will take time."

The city, 50km (30 miles) west of Baghdad, was captured by the Sunni extremist group in January 2014 and has been held by the militants ever since. It is a centre of Sunni opposition to the Shiite-led government in Baghdad and was the site of intense clashes following the US occupation of the country in 2003.

Isis' capture of Ramadi in May demonstrated that, despite the loss of Sunni-majority city of Tikrit to Iraqi forces in March, the terror group still retains the force to defeat Iraq's security forces on the battlefield.

A joint spring offensive between Iraqi forces, Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen and US-led coalition aircraft to retake Mosul, the country's second city, has been delayed until 2016.