The arid, sparsely populated wastelands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are the last refuge of the jihadists in Iraq after troops and paramilitaries ousted them from both valleys and all urban areas.
"The Iraqi army, the federal police and the Hashed al- Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation paramilitary units) this morning began clearing the Al-Jazeera region straddling Salaheddin, Nineveh and Anbar provinces," the head of Joint Operations Command, General Abdelamir Yarallah, said in a statement.
The region's dry valleys, the oases and steppes make up around four per cent of the national territory, Hisham al-Hashemi, an Iraqi expert on IS, told AFP last week.
"After the operation has ended, we will announce the final defeat of Daesh in Iraq," he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
Over the border in neighbouring Syria, pro-government forces and US-backed Kurdish-led forces are conducting similar operations to clear IS fighters from the countryside north of the Euphrates valley after ousting them from all urban areas.
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