TEHRAN (Press Shia) – Iraqi forces continued to make gains against Daesh (ISIL or ISIS) terrorists in the northern province of Kirkuk, managing to retake a key district there along with seven villages, a commander said.

“Joint troops managed to liberate al-Zab region, southwest of Kirkuk, and seven villages,” Brigadier General Khalaf Ibrahim, a commander with the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), also known as Hashd al-Sha'abi, in Hawijah, told Iraq's al-Sumaria news website.

“The region is the first to be liberated by troops there,” he added,

“Troops will stop after liberation of al-Zab and villages in its vicinity before invading the center of the town as well as regions of al-Riyadh, al-Abbassi and al-Rashad within the coming 48 hours,” Ibrahim further said.

On Thursday, Brigadier General Yahia Rasoul, a spokesman of the Iraqi Joint Operations Command, said the number of Daesh militants in Hawijah falls between 800 and 1500.

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 Thursday 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.