The Islamic State group launched an offensive in Iraq’s western Anbar province on Wednesday, capturing three villages near the provincial capital of Ramadi, where fierce clashes were underway between the extremists and government troops, residents said.
The dawn push by IS seized the villages of Sjariyah, Albu-Ghanim and Soufiya, which had been under government control, the residents said, adding that the fighting was taking place on the eastern edges of Ramadi, about two kilometers (mile) away from local government building.
In Soufiya, the militants bombed a police station and took over a power plant. The residents, who spoke on condition of anonymity fearing for their own safety, said airstrikes were trying to back up Iraqi troops.
Iraqi security officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Around noon Wednesday, the militants opened another front with the government troops on three other villages, to the northeast of Ramadi.
The Islamic State’s push comes as IS was dealt a major blow this month, when Iraqi troops pushed the group out of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown.
It also coincides with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s visit to Washington where he met with President Barack Obama on Tuesday and appealed for greater support from the U.S.-led coalition carrying out airstrikes against IS militants, who have also captured large areas in neighboring Syria.
Also, a spate of militant attack in and outside Baghdad killed at least 43 people over the past two days.
Meanwhile, Iraqi state TV cited Lt. Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, the regional commander of troops in Salahuddin province as saying that troops started a large-scale operation to recapture areas beyond Tikrit. The TV did not provide more details.
Last year’s blitz by the Islamic State, which swept through key areas in the north and west to seize about a third of Iraq, has pushed the country into its worst crisis since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops.