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Iraqi forces launch offensive against new militant outfit in north

A member of the Iraqi forces walks past a tank as an army convoy drives towards Kurdish Peshmerga positions on the southern outskirts of the city of Kirkuk on October 15, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Iraq’s armed forces have launched a large-scale military operation along a planned oil transit route in the north against a new militant outfit reportedly comprised of Daesh remnants and Kurdish mafia elements.

Iraqi army and police forces, backed by the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), also known as Hashd al-Sha’abi, started the campaign in coordination with the Kurdish Peshmerga troops in the cities of Kirkuk and Tuz Khurmatu on Wednesday.

“With the goal of enforcing security and stability, destroying sleeper cells, and continuing clearing operations, an operation was launched in the early hours of this morning to search and clear areas east of Tuz Khurmato,” the Iraqi armed forces said in a statement.

Shortly after the beginning of the operation, Iraqi media reported that the government forces had managed to liberate two villages from the grip of the militants.

The so-called White Flags militant outfit was formed in late 2017 when the Daesh terror group was on its last legs in the face of Iraqi army advances.

It has bases in Iraq’s mountains and highlands and uses a banner depicting a black lion on a white background.

Some reports have put the number of its elements at hundreds, less than one thousand. It is said to be an alliance of former Daesh terrorists and disgruntled Kurdish mafia members.

PMU spokesman Ali al-Hussieni told the al-Sabah newspaper on Tuesday that the military campaign was aimed at Daesh remnants and White Flag militants.

“The troops received accurate intelligence reports on the locations of those terrorists, who have committed several violations in Iraq," he added.

Abadi unveils plan for US-led forces’ drawdown

Separately on Tuesday, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi unveiled a plan for the gradual drawdown of US-led coalition forces from Iraq after the collapse of Daesh.

Speaking at a press briefing in Baghdad, Abadi announced “a governmental plan drawn to reduce number of forces of the international coalition in Iraq gradually.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi delivers a speech during a ceremony in the holy city of Najaf on January 7, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Also on Monday, an Iraqi government spokesman said that US forces had already begun pulling out but that some would remain.

Moreover, two major Iraqi Shia groups, the Badr Organization and Kata’ib Hezbollah, have demanded a complete withdrawal of American troops from the country.

Badr Organization spokesman Kareem Nuri said Washington and Baghdad “should coordinate to ensure a full withdrawal. US presence will be cause for internal polarization and a magnet for terrorists.”

“We are serious about getting the Americans out, using the force of arms because the Americans don’t understand any other language,” Kata’ib Hezbollah spokesman, Jaafar al-Husseini, told the Beirut-based al-Mayadeen TV.

The US has been leading a coalition of its allies in a military campaign against purported Daesh targets in Iraq since 2014. The alliance has repeatedly been accused of targeting and killing civilians.

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