Islamic State forces almost expelled from its last urban stronghold in Iraq

Violet Powell
October 6, 2017

Iraq's military said on Thursday it has retaken the town of Hawija, the ISIS' last stronghold in northern Iraq.

Thick black smoke continued to rise from areas surrounding Hawija, from oil wells torched by the militants to prevent air detection.

The troops continued chasing IS militants during the day and liberated many villages around Hawijah before they pushed into the nearby town of Ryadh and took full control of its neighborhoods, Yarallah said in a separate statement.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is urging Kurdish peshmerga forces to keep working with Iraqi forces in the fight against Islamic State extremists despite tensions over the Kurds' independence referendum.

Federal police chief Raed Shakir Jawdat said elite units had entered the town from the northwest amid artillery and missile bombardments of militant positions.

They also hold parts of Syrian side of the border, but the area under their control is shrinking as they retreat in the face of two different sets of hostile forces - a US-backed, Kurdish-led coalition and Syrian government troops with foreign Shi'ite militias backed by Iran and Russian Federation.

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Fatah and Hamas have been at odds ever since the latter scored a landslide victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006. Mr Hamdallah later met Hamas political leader Ismail Haniya and its Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar.

"I announce the liberation of the city of Hawija", Abadi said after talks with French President Emmanuel Macron.

A statement by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said that more than 12,500 people had fled and were now in need of water, food and shelter - often in overstretched refugee camps.

Last week, it was ousted from Anna, one of three towns it still held in the Euphrates Valley, and Iraqi forces are preparing to advance upstream towards the other two, Rawa and Al-Qaim. It is unclear though how many civilians have escaped in the past couple of days.

The capture of Hawija leaves just one remaining area under ISIL's control in Iraq.

Hawija, which lies 215km (135 miles) north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, has been a bastion of Sunni Arab insurgents since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In Iraq, the group now controls only a string of small towns in the vast desert of western Anbar province along the Syrian border.

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