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Iraq forces oust Daesh from northern town in drive on Hawija

Iraqi pro-government forces reach al-Sejar village on the boundary of Fallujah, on May 28, 2016, as they take part in a major assault to retake the city from the Islamic State group Iraqi pro-government forces reach al-Sejar village on the boundary of Fallujah, on May 28, 2016, as they take part in a major assault to retake the city from the Islamic State group (AFP)
SHARQAT, Sharqat, Iraq: Iraqi forces achieved the first goal of a new offensive against the Daesh group on just its second day Friday, penetrating the northern town of Sharqat, AFP correspondents said.
Some residents celebrated in the streets as government troops and paramilitaries entered the town center and tore down the black flags of the jihadists who had ruled it with an iron fist for more than three years.
AFP correspondents saw little major damage in the town, although there had been casualties in the fighting as they saw the bodies of two jihadists in the back of a pickup.
Sharqat was the first goal of a major offensive launched on Thursday to recapture an Daesh-held enclave centered on the insurgent bastion of Hawija, one of just two pockets still controlled by the jihadists in Iraq.
Sector operations chief General Abdel Amir Yarallah said some 20 villages around Sharqat had also been recaptured from Daesh.
The next goal is Hawija itself, some 30 kilometers (20 miles) to the southeast.
After the defeat of Daesh in second city Mosul in July and the recapture of adjacent areas, Hawija and neighboring towns form the last enclave still held by Daesh in Iraq apart from a section of the Euphrates Valley downstream from the border with Syria.
The mainly Sunni Arab enclave, which was bypassed by government forces in their advance north to Mosul last year, has been a bastion of insurgency ever since the first year of the US-led occupation in 2003.
The territory still held by Daesh in the “caliphate” straddling Iraq and Syria it proclaimed in 2014 has dwindled, with stronghold after stronghold coming under assault on both sides of the border.
Iraq soldiers, police and paramilitaries launched an offensive against the jihadists’s other remaining enclave earlier this week, pushing up the Euphrates Valley toward the Daesh-held towns of Anna, Rawa and Al-Qaim.

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