Arbil: Arab fighters backed by Kurdish forces and US-led air strikes retook a village in northern Iraq on Wednesday in an example of effective military cooperation on the ground between them against IS insurgents.
The offensive in the Makhmour district south of Arbil began early on Wednesday, resulting in the recapture of Kudila - part of a series of planned operations to clear IS from the area, Kurdish and Arab commanders said.
Kurdish forces have driven the ultra-hardline militants back in northern Iraq, but have been reluctant to push further into predominantly Arab territory for fear of being seen as an occupying force by inhabitants and provoking a backlash.
Locals have been training in the Makhmour area as part of the Hashid Shaabi or Popular Mobilisation Force, a coalition of mainly militias in which Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi would like to include minority community groups.
"In coordination with the (Kurdish) peshmerga and supported by coalition planes they have a plan to clear and liberate all the areas that the terrorists seized," said peshmerga commander Qader Qader. "These attacks will continue".
Speaking via phone from Kudila with the sound of heavy machine gun fire in the background, one peshmerga said IS had deployed three suicide car bombs to fend off the assault and at least eight militants had been killed.
Sheikh Faris Al Sabaawi, one of the three commanders of the Hashid Shaabi force in the area, said he could see militants' body parts scattered around the village, which was used to launch rockets on Makhmour.
The Hashid Shaabi retook another village in the area in coordination with the peshmerga several days ago. "We work as one team," Sabaawi said.
The Hashid Shaabi will advance towards the IS stronghold of Qayara, around 10km (6 miles) further west, Sabaawi said. This ultimately would increase the pressure on IS-held Mosul, northern Iraq's largest city, which the peshmerga have partly surrounded.
The US-led coalition fighting IS aims to recapture Mosul this year, working with Iraqi government forces, and drive the militants out of Raqqa, their stronghold in northeast Syria, Arab and Western officials say.
Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled Al Obeidi has said the Mosul operation will be launched in the first half of 2016.
Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces have begun building a concrete wall surrounding the capital Baghdad in a bid to prevent attacks by IS militants, a military statement said on Wednesday.
IS has seized vast swathes of territory north and west of Baghdad and has claimed several attacks in recent months in the Iraqi capital. The last one, on January 11, targeted a shopping mall and killed at least 18 people, according to police sources.
The planned security barrier will surround the city from all sides, said Baghdad Operations Command's head Lieutenant-General Abdul Ameer Al Shammari, in a statement published on the defence ministry's website. The preparatory work on the wall started on Monday, he said.
"The security barrier around Baghdad will prevent terrorists from infiltrating the capital or smuggling explosives and car bombs to target innocent civilians," he said.
Construction will start in the area of Al Subaihat, around 30km (20 miles) to the west of Baghdad, so as to isolate it from Fallujah, a long-time bastion of militants now under control of IS.
Many districts in the Iraqi capital are now surrounded by concrete fences dating back to the sectarian strife about a decade ago.
Some of these concrete walls will be dismantled in the districts that are no longer deemed under threat, and used in the new wall around Baghdad, along with surveillance camera and explosives detection devices, Shammari said.
The walls and barriers around the so-called Green Zone are expected to remain. Created by the US-led coalition that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, this heavily fortified zone now houses the government, parliament and many embassies including those of the US and Britain.
Slovenia will offer military equipment and up to 15 military instructors to the global US-led coalition against the IS, Defence Minister Andreja Katic said on Wednesday, confirming an earlier media report.
The Slovenian military instructors would start training Kurdish soldiers in the Iraqi city of Arbil probably in the second half of the year, Katic told a news conference.
Details of the mission would be determined in March in coordination with other coalition members, she said. European Union member Slovenia has so far not participated in any action against IS.
"Slovenia will take part in solving the main global challenges," she said. "Preventative action at home against such complex, crossborder threats is no longer sufficient."
She said Slovenia would also offer military equipment worth 650,000 euros ($710,000) to soldiers in Iraq who are fighting against IS, a sum that includes transport costs.