Iraqi forces say they have retaken the center of Islamic State group stronghold Hawija in the oil-rich Kirkuk Province and are pushing forward in their assault on one of the last IS bastions in the country.
Troops, police and paramilitaries backed by a U.S.-led coalition "liberated the whole of the center of Hawija and are continuing their advance," the operation's commander, Lieutenant General Abdel Amir Yarallah, said.
The capture of Hawija brings them into direct contact with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters who control Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic region claimed by both Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
The Hawija offensive began last month (September 21). Hawija is located some 240 kilometers north of Baghdad and 50 kilometers to the west of Kirkuk.
The militants continue to control the border town of al-Qaim and the region surrounding it.
They also hold parts of the Syrian side of the border, but the area under their control is shrinking as they retreat in the face of two different sets of hostile forces - a U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led coalition and Syrian government troops with foreign Shi'ite militias backed by Iran and Russia.
The United Nations said on October 3 that an estimated 12,500 people had fled Hawija since the launch of the offensive. The UN says the number of people still in the town was unknown but could be as high as 78,000.
Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, and dpa