REUTERS

The offensive began at dawn in an agricultural area northeast of the city of Samarra, about 95 kilometers north of Baghdad, RFE/RL reported.

Iraqi military officials said the aim of the operation is to cut off IS supply lines and to tighten the grip of government forces around the IS-held northern city of Mosul.

Military spokesman Sabah al-Numan said controlling the Jazerat Samarra area is essential for future operations to retake Mosul and parts of the western province of Anbar that remain under IS control.

A U.S.-backed Iraqi offensive is widely expected later in 2016 to recapture Mosul, which has been under IS control since 2014.