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The Latest on IS: Militia name for Anbar fight draws ire

In this Saturday, May 23, 2015 photo, Shiite militiamen arrive to Khalidiya to support Sunni tribal fighters and local policemen as they defend their city against Islamic State group militants, 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo)

8:05 p.m. (1705 GMT)

The name Shiite militias are using to describe the Iraqi operation to retake Anbar province from the Islamic State group is drawing ire from the Pentagon over its sectarian tilt.

The Popular Mobilization Units have named the battle that began Tuesday in Arabic: “Labaik Ya Hussein.” That means “I am here, Hussein” in English. It refers to a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and one of the most revered figures of Shiite Islam.

That has added to the worries about the Shiite militias operating in Anbar, a predominantly Sunni province long suspicious of the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

At the Pentagon, spokesman Col. Steve Warren called the title “unhelpful.” He added: “We’ve long said … the key to expelling ISIL from Iraq is a unified Iraq that separates itself from sectarian divides,” using an alternate acronym for the group.

Karim al-Nouri, a spokesman for the Popular Mobilization Units, said the name wasn’t sectarian.

Al-Nouri said: “This name has no sectarian dimension (or meaning) because all Iraqis, regardless of their sect or religion, love Imam Hussein.”

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7:45 p.m. (1645 GMT)

A Pentagon spokesman says Iraqi forces have begun “shaping operations” and “security zone interactions,” describing them as probing and reconnaissance actions that would precede any major combat against Islamic State extremists in or around the city of Ramadi in western Anbar province.

Col. Steve Warren says the Iraqis have begun moving forward from their base in the province’s town of Habbaniyah and that IS fighters are also probing in the direction of the town.

Warren says he could not confirm that the Iraqi forces have surrounded Ramadi.

His remarks came after the Iraqi government earlier on Tuesday announced an operation to retake Anbar from Islamic State militants who captured it earlier this month.

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6:45 p.m. (1545 GMT)

Syria’s state-run news agency SANA says government forces have conducted airstrikes targeting the Islamic State group in the northern province of Raqqa, killing scores of militants.

There was no immediate confirmation of Tuesday’s report, which said Syrian the warplanes targeted Islamic State hideouts in and around the Tabqa air base southwest of Raqqa. It said that 140 militants were killed.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said six people died Tuesday in airstrikes in Raqqa province believed to be carried out by the U.S.-led coalition targeting the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. It said those airstrikes hit the southwest of Raqqa. It was not immediately clear if they were referring to the same incident.

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6:15 p.m. (1515 GMT)

A massive sandstorm is engulfing Iraq’s contested Anbar province amid the fight there against the Islamic State group.

The sandstorm swept through parts of the Islamic State-held city of Ramadi on Tuesday afternoon, moving west to Fallujah and other parts of the province.

Iraq announced an operation to retake Anbar province earlier Tuesday. While major fighting had slowed in by the afternoon, tribal chief Rafie al-Fahdawi told The Associated Press he worried the lowered visibility would embolden new attacks by the extremists.

He said: “There is zero visibility on the front lines and our men are highly concerned that they might come under attack by Daesh in such bad weather,” using an alternate Arabic acronym for the group.

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6 p.m. (1500 GMT)

A video released by a media arm of the Islamic State group purportedly shows the archaeological ruins of Palmyra apparently undamaged.

The video was released Tuesday by the pro-Islamic State Aamaq News Agency. It was the first release since the extremist group captured Palmyra earlier this month.

The Islamic State group also seized Ramadi around the same time, showing that it’s able to advance in both Syria and Iraq despite months of U.S.-led airstrikes.

The video purports to show the majestic Roman-era collonades and amphitheater apparently undamaged. It also shows black smoke billowing from behind the ruins.

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3:18 p.m. (1218 GMT)

Officials in Iraq’s Anbar province say there is ongoing fighting and airstrikes west and south of the Islamic State-held city of Ramadi.

The description of the fighting Tuesday afternoon came from provincial councilman Faleh al-Issawi and local tribesman Rafie al-Fahdawi, who both spoke to The Associated Press by telephone.

They say that for now, the strikes and fighting are aimed at recapturing the outskirts of Ramadi and not the city itself.

Iraq launched an operation Tuesday to retake Anbar province from the Islamic State group, and a Shiite militia spokesman said Iraqi forces have stationed themselves around the provincial capital, Ramadi, from three sides.

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3:10 p.m. (1210 GMT)

The U.S. military says it will provide some 2,000 anti-tank rockets to Iraq “within the next week” to help it fight the Islamic State group.

The military made the comment in a statement Tuesday. It also says the U.S.-led coalition has carried out over 4,100 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria since beginning its campaign in August.

Iraq meanwhile launched an operation Tuesday to retake Anbar province from the Islamic State group, and a Shiite militia spokesman said Iraqi forces have stationed themselves around the provincial capital, Ramadi, from three sides.

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2:30 p.m. (1130 GMT)

Syrian activists say the Islamic State-held town of Palmyra is quiet a day after a series of deadly Syrian government air raids.

They say at least one child and two women were among the 15 people killed in the raids in and around Palmyra. The raids came after the government said IS fighters have killed more than 400 state employees, soldiers and pro-government gunmen since they captured the town last week.

Iraq has meanwhile launched an operation to retake the western Anbar province from the IS group, and a Shiite militia spokesman said Iraqi forces have stationed themselves around the provincial capital, Ramadi, from three sides.

The IS group captured Palmyra and Ramadi earlier this month, showing that it’s able to advance in both Syria and Iraq despite months of U.S.-led airstrikes.

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Noon (0900 GMT)

A spokesman for Iraq’s Shiite militias says an operation launched to retake the western Anbar province from the Islamic State group will “not last for a long time” and that Iraqi forces have surrounded the provincial capital, Ramadi, from three sides.

Ahmed al-Assadi, who is also a member of parliament, told reporters Tuesday that new weapons are being used in the battle “that will surprise the enemy.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Iraqi state TV announced a major operation to retake Anbar, parts of which have been held by the Islamic State since early 2014. It did not provide further details.

The government has called on Shiite militias to help the army retake the Sunni province, raising concerns the offensive could heighten sectarian tensions.

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10:30 a.m. (0730 GMT)

Iraq has announced the launch of an operation to drive the Islamic State group out of the western Anbar province, where the extremists captured the provincial capital earlier this month.

Iraqi state TV on Tuesday announced the start of the operation, in which troops will be backed by Shiite and Sunni paramilitary forces, but did not provide further details.

The Islamic State group seized large parts of Anbar starting in early 2014 and captured the provincial capital, Ramadi, earlier this month. The fall of Ramadi marked a major defeat for Iraqi forces, which had been making steady progress against the extremists over the past year with the help of U.S.-led airstrikes.

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