The Iraqi army, pictured after liberating Mosul, are now headed for Hawija to help more than 100,000 civilians, officials said. Photo by Hana Noori/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 5 (UPI) -- Military operations are being set in place to free more than 100,000 civilians besieged by the Islamic State terror group in Hawija, Iraq, officials said Tuesday.
Hawija has been occupied by IS since mid-2014 when the militant group claimed the city as part of its caliphate. The group has since executed civilians and security members there, causing many residents to flee.
Since the loss of the Islamic State's stronghold in Mosul, Hawija has become the main Iraqi bastion for the group.
Iraqi government forces are setting their sites for Hawija after liberating the city of Tal Afar -- another former IS stronghold -- last week, and are anticipating that the Islamic State will use the remaining civilians as human shields.
"Additional forces are sent from Baghdad to prepare for the upcoming battle. We are not going to rush this campaign. Our priority will be the evacuation of civilians trapped in Hawija -- located [187 miles] north of Baghdad -- by [IS] terrorists. Our plan is unequivocal in this regard," said Brigadier General Yahya Rasul, a spokesperson for the Iraqi army.
A source told Iraqi News that the government should provide civilians with safe passageways to escape ahead of the battle.
The Iraqi army has since dropped dozens of leaflets to inform the residents of Hawija that the terror of IS will soon come to an end for them, leading Hawija residents to kill four militant leaders in anticipation.
Mohamed Hineidi, a senior analyst at the Delma Institute in Abu Dhabi, predicted a lengthy battle for the Iraqi army.
"IS realizes that very soon it will lose all territory, including Hawija ... but it will try and put up a strong fight in order to provide itself with the ability to project power to launch terror attacks across Iraq in the future," said Hineidi.