Iraqi Shiite Muslim men from Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilization) march during a parade marking the annual al-Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day, on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Baghdad

Nineveh Iraqi paramilitary forces battling the Islamic State alongside the government launched Friday a major offensive targeting the group’s havens near Nineveh province’s borders with Syria.

Al Hashd Al Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Units) said through its media it launched an offensive on Al Baaj and Qayrawan regions, backed by the army air force. The regions fall west to Mosul, ISIS largest urban stronghold in Iraq which Iraqi commanders have said they predict to recapture this month.

The targeted regions also fall west of Tal Afar, another ISIS bastion. Occasional clashing statements from the Iraqi government and Al Hashd leaderships emerged regarding Al Hashd’s possible involvement in anticipated operations for Tal Afar. While PMUs said they were ready for the battle, Iraqi officials reassured that the Shia-led troops were not going to take part in offensives targeting the mainly Sunni and Turkmen town.

As the offensive began on Friday, PMU media said its troops engaged in fierce encounters with IS militants as they invaded Um Al Shababit village, north of Qayrawan, and were close to proceeding towards Al Hayyat, a neighboring village.

Iraqi commanders have reiterated that ISIS influence in the province had been waning, and said last month that the group was holding less than seven percent of Iraqi territories.

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