Iraq said Wednesday that Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants had launched a new wave of deadly suicide attacks targeting troops in Anbar province.
The bombings came just hours after the start of a new offensive against the extremist group in the sprawling province west of Baghdad. Iraqi officials said at least 17 troops were killed by the bombs.
Most of the blasts were concentrated around the city of Fallujah, about midway between Baghdad and Anbar province's capital city of Ramadi, which ISIS seized less than two weeks ago.
Iraqi forces said they had surrounded Ramadi on three sides. Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi claimed earlier this week that his forces would retake Ramadi within just a few days -- but CBS News correspondent Holly Williams says that seems optimistic.
Parts of Anbar have now been under ISIS control for well over a year.
ISIS attacked Ramadi earlier this month with a wave of suicide car and truck bombs, and soldiers from the Iraqi army fled, leaving the extremists to capture some of their weapons.
That drew sharp criticism from U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who said on Sunday the Iraqi forces lacked the "will to fight" ISIS.
After an angry reaction from Iraq, Vice President Joe Biden telephoned al-Abadi on Monday to reassure him of U.S. support.
But with the Iraqi Army in disarray, Iraq's government has deployed the country's Shiite Muslim militias as a major contingent in the Anbar offensive. They've proven more effective against ISIS than the Iraqi army, but they're also implicated in the murders of Sunni Muslim civilians, and accused of looting and torching their homes.
A spokesman for the Shiite militias appeared on television on Tuesday, asserting the militas' leadership over the Anbar offensive and giving it a name that, in and of itself, was sure to anger Sunnis.
The militia spokesman said the offensive had been dubbed "Labaik ya Hussein," (At your service, Hussein) a tribute to the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, whose 7th century death on the battlefield sparked the rift between Sunni and Shiite muslims.
"The Labaik Ya Hussein operation is led by the Hashid Shaabi (Shiite militias) in cooperation and coordination with the armed forces there," Assadi said, according to Reuters. "We believe that liberating Ramadi will not take long."
The Pentagon criticized the sectarian tone of the name for the operation, calling it "unhelpful," and later Wednesday, Iraqi state TV reported that it had been changed.
The operation had reporteldy been renamed "Labaik ya Iraq."
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