Iraq announced Monday the start of an offensive to recapture its western Anbar province from Islamic State militants who control large areas including the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah.
The televised statement said the operation included Iraqi troops as well as Shi’ite and Sunni fighters.
Iraq’s government has made Anbar a priority since the Islamic State group seized Ramadi during a May offensive that prompted fresh criticism of the military and its response to the militants.
In another development, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq and the UN Refugee Agency released a report Monday saying 15,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed and 30,000 wounded since January, 2014.
The report said that civilians in areas under the control of Islamic State face a dire situation. «Civilians continue to be murdered, often in grim public spectacles,» the report said.
Ramadi is about 125 kilometers west of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, where multiple bomb attacks Sunday killed at least 29 people and wounded more than 80 others.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but similar waves of bombings have been attributed to the Islamic State.
The militants seized large areas of northern and western Iraq last year, and their emergence coincided with a massive increase in civilian and military deaths in Iraq. Last year, those deaths jumped 82 percent from the level in 2013, which itself was more than double the year before.
So far in 2015, the violence is even worse as the military and militias try to regain territory from the militants on the ground and the United States leads a coalition campaign of airstrikes targeting the Islamic State group.
Through June, nearly 7,800 people had been killed, according to United Nations data, marking an increase of more than 600 deaths through the period last year.