With operations to sweep the remnant Islamic State forces out of Fallujah wrapped up, the focus of Iraqi security forces has shifted to a slow-moving approach toward Mosul, the heart of Islamic State operations in Iraq. Iraqi advances over the past few weeks, intensifying over the past few days, on both sides of the Tigris River have squeezed Mosul's ability to supply Islamic State operations to the south and have put significant pressure on Islamic State militants still in Hawija district, a relatively fertile slice of land in Tamim province populated largely by Sunni Iraqis and sandwiched between the Tigris and Iraqi Kurdistan.
East of the Tigris near Makhmur, Iraq has been building up its forces for weeks in preparation for cutting off Hawija from its critical Mosul supply lines. Iraqi Kurdistan has been the staging area for many of these operations, and there is significant Kurdish peshmerga participation. The recapture of a handful of small villages around Haj Ali in the beginning of July prompted many Islamic State fighters to flee, likely north toward Mosul. On the western side of the Tigris, despite the significant threat that the Islamic State presents along the Shirqat-Qayara corridor, several Iraqi battalions drove north and turned east toward Qayara air base, raiding Shirqat district and capturing a handful of villages. The advance culminated July 9 in the recapture of the key base. In the coming months, coalition engineers and logistics personnel will build up the base, enabling increased air support for the battle against the Islamic State.
Meanwhile, the capture of the village of Ijhala, on the western bank of the Tigris near Haj Ali, on July 12 enabled the start of construction on a pontoon bridge across a relatively narrow portion of the river to enable the Iraqis' eastern and western advances to link up. Meeting in the middle is a crucial next step for the campaign launched earlier this year to capture Mosul and Nineveh province. Connecting east and west with a supply artery will establish a free flow of communication, personnel and materiel that could either enable a concerted attack against the Islamic State in the Hawija area or isolate those forces and weaken their ability to reinforce Mosul. Iraqi forces are already attacking Islamic State hospitals and storehouses by air in the Hawija district itself, and militants have reportedly begun fleeing in large numbers. Iraqi security forces will focus on attacks against Islamic State fighters to pin them down and prevent them from reinforcing Mosul.