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Iraqi ground offensive against IS to begin 'within weeks'

US official promises 'major firepower' once Iraqi forces begin ground campaign to take back their country
Iraqi soldiers march during a military parade earlier this month in Baghdad (AA)

Iraqi troops will begin a ground offensive "in the weeks ahead" to take back swathes of the country seized by the Islamic State (IS) group, the US coordinator for the international coalition against the militants said Sunday.

"There will be a major counter offensive on the ground in Iraq," top US envoy John Allen said in an interview with Jordan's official Petra news agency.

"In the weeks ahead, when the Iraqi forces begin the ground campaign to take back Iraq, the coalition will provide major firepower associated with that," he added, stressing that the Iraqis would lead the offensive.

Allen dismissed accusations that there has been a delay in the supply of US weapons and training to Iraqi troops on the frontline of the conflict, telling Petra: "The United States is doing all it can to deliver its support as quickly as possible."

The US has been leading an aerial campaign against the militants, who have reportedly seized territory in Iraq and Syria equivalent to the size of the UK and have imposed a brutal form of Islam in the territory.

Jordan, part of the coalition, announced Sunday that it had conducted dozens of air strikes on IS targets after the group burned one of its air force pilots to death and released a gruesome video of the execution.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the assault was beginning to win back territory and deprive militants of key funds.

There have been 2,000 air strikes on IS since the coalition's formation in August, Kerry told the Munich Security Conference on Sunday.

The air war had helped to retake some 700 square kilometres (270 square miles) of territory, or "one-fifth of the area they had in their control", he said.

The top US diplomat did not specify whether the regained territory was in Iraq or Syria.

But he added the coalition had "deprived the militants of the use of 200 oil and gas facilities... disrupted their command structure... squeezed its finance and dispersed its personnel."

Last week, a House of Commons defence committee report, which criticised the UK’s response to Islamic State to date, also raised concerns about whether Iraqi Security Forces would be able to recapture sacked cities.

“Even if the Iraqi Security Forces prove able to recapture Tikrit, Mosul and Fallujah, there is little evidence, on the basis of their performance over the last two years, that they would be able to successfully win back the ‘hearts and minds’ of the local population, and thus bring a real end to the [IS] insurgency,” the report said.

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