BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi forces regained ground from Islamic State militants in western Iraq on Sunday, advancing towards the city of Ramadi one week after it fell to the insurgents.
A police major and a pro-government Sunni tribal fighter in the area said they had retaken the town of Husaiba al-Sharqiya, about 10 km east of Ramadi, with the help of Shi'ite paramilitaries.
Shi'ite militias, Iraqi security forces and pro-government Sunni tribal fighters launched a counter-offensive on Saturday against the insurgents, who have pushed east towards a key military base after overrunning Ramadi.
"Today we regained control over Husaiba and are laying plans to make more advances to push back Daesh fighters further,” said local tribal leader Amir al-Fahdawi, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State, also known in English as ISIS or ISIL.
“The morale of the fighters is high after the arrival of reinforcements and loads of ammunition".
Planes were bombing Islamic State positions on the opposite bank of the Euphrates river, where the militants were launching mortars and sniper fire to prevent the pro-government forces advancing, Fahdawi and the police major said.
The fall of Ramadi last Sunday was the biggest setback for Iraqi forces in almost a year and has cast doubt on the effectiveness of the U.S.-led strategy for fighting the Sunni militant group.
A U.S.-led coalition is bombing Islamic State positions from the air after the group seized swathes of Iraq and Syria and proclaimed a caliphate last year to rule over all Muslims.
Iraqi government forces and Iran-backed Shi'ite militia advanced against the Sunni militants north of Baghdad in the Tigris river valley earlier this year, recapturing former dictator Saddam Hussein's home city of Tikrit. But the insurgents responded by going on the offensive west of Baghdad in the valley of Iraq's other great river, the Euphrates.
(Reporting by Baghdad Bureau; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Peter Graff)