Iraqi forces have opened a second front in preparation for an assault on the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul, a day after government troops declared victory over the militants in Fallujah.
Elite counter-terrorism forces and two army divisions, backed by US-led coalition air strikes, on Saturday (local time) advanced from a northern refinery town towards an airfield seen as key for a move to retake Mosul, security officials said.
Mosul is Iraq's largest northern city and Islamic State's de facto capital in the country.
Government troops cleared two villages and pressed around 20km along a desert route west of Baiji, the first advance past the town since its recapture in October, the security officials said.
Defence Minister Khaled al-Obaidi said the assault marked the launch of operations to push Islamic State out of Qayara, about 115km north of Baiji, where an airfield could serve as the staging ground for a future offensive on Mosul, a further 60km north.
Army troops on a separate front pushing west from Makhmour for the past three months have made only halting progress on the opposite side of the Tigris river.
"The launch of operations to liberate Qayara will not give the terrorists a chance to catch their breath," Obaidi said on Twitter alongside a picture of Humvee military trucks snaking down a desert road.
Iraqi forces entered the centre of Fallujah, an hour's drive west of Baghdad, on Friday morning after a four-week operation that sent its tens of thousands of residents fleeing to overwhelmed displacement camps nearby.
Prime Minster Haider al-Abadi had declared victory over the militants by evening, but police sources said that government troops had not yet entered seven northern districts held by Islamic State and were still clearing southern areas.