(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Iraq launched an offensive on Thursday to dislodge Islamic State from Hawija, an area located west of the oil city of Kirkuk.
The offensive, announced by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, comes four days before a referendum on Kurdish independence due to be held in Kurdish-held areas of northern Iraq, including Kirkuk.
Abadi considers the referendum ''anti-constitutional'' and has called the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government to cancel it.
Hawija, north of Baghdad, and a stretch along the Syrian border, west of the Iraqi capital, are the last pieces of territory still in the hands of Islamic State in the country. The group took control of about a third of Iraq in 2014.