TEHRAN (Press Shia Agency) – Iraqi forces launched a major offensive against Daesh (ISIL or ISIS) in Hawijah, west of the oil city of Kirkuk, managing to liberate 19 rural areas from the grip of the terror group on the second day of their operation, a military official said.

Iraq’s Joint Operations Command, citing commander of Kirkuk Liberation Operation Lieutenant General Abdul Amir Yarallah, announced on Friday that security forces had wrested control over nineteen villages, Alforat News reported.

The Hawijah district is located south of Mosul between the city of Kirkuk and the Tigris River. The Daesh terrorist group has used it as a launching pad for operations in Baiji, Tikrit, and Kirkuk.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi announced the operation in a statement online, saying it is the “first stage of the liberation of Hawijah.”

Daesh seized control of Hawijah in early 2014, but it became isolated from the rest of Deash-held areas in July 2016 during the battle of Mosul, especially after Shirqat, which lies a short distance to the West, slipped out of the militants’ grip, according to Iraqi sources.