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Iraq Launches Offensive to Reclaim IS-Held Anbar

People inspect the scene after an explosion hit a busy commercial area in Baghdad, Iraq Monday, July 13, 2015.
People inspect the scene after an explosion hit a busy commercial area in Baghdad, Iraq Monday, July 13, 2015.

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.

Anbar province, Iraq
Anbar province, Iraq

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.

U.S.-led coalition forces stepped up their operation to assist that Iraqi goal, with 29 of 39 airstrikes in Iraq Sunday targeting the area around Ramadi in Anbar province. A Pentagon statement released Monday said the airstrikes damaged 67 Islamic State staging areas, excavators, armored personnel carriers and other vehicles.

In another development, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq and the U.N. 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.