Daesh loses its last stronghold in northern Iraq
Daesh loses its last stronghold in northern Iraq
Hawija, 45 km southwest of Kirkuk, was the last Daesh stronghold in northern Iraq. It was seized by the radical forces in 2014 after the dramatic collapse of the Iraqi army.
The town was the “Daesh command and control headquarters in the north.” It supervised and controlled militant operations on the eastern bank of the Tigris River where Kirkuk and Diyala provinces are and the western bank of the river where Nineveh and Salahuddin provinces are.
“Today, the city of Hawija was liberated by the hands of the Iraqi security forces, with nothing remaining under Daesh control except the border with Syria,” Al-Abadi said in a joint televised press conference with French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron.
“In this case, we have defeated terrorism in Iraq. This could not have been done without the courage of our heroes and the backing of the international community, including France.”
Hawija, surrounded by mountains, was the biggest source of Daesh fighters and supplies and a haven for the group’s leaders and their families who had fled from the liberated areas. More than 78,000 people were estimated to be trapped inside Hawija, according to the UN mission in Iraq.
“The liberated areas include the center of Hawija, Abassi, Rashad and Riyadh towns in addition to 300 small villages,” a senior military officer involved in the ongoing military operation told Arab News.
“Our troops will keep advancing until they are in touch with the peshmerga (the Kurdish troops in the area), so not an inch will be left for Daesh,” the officer said.
Regaining control of Hawija facilitates the mission of the federal forces assigned to secure the oil fields in Kirkuk and get them back from the Kurdish forces, which drove the army away in the summer of 2014 and took control of them.
Baghdad seeks to impose its constitutional federal authority in the areas that were outside the borders of the Kurdish region before 2003. The Kurdish regional authorities declared a rebellion against the constitution and the federal government by holding a controversial referendum on Kurdish independence late last month.
“We do not want an armed confrontation (with Kurdistan) nor do we do want any hostility or clashes, but federal authority must be imposed in these areas,” Al-Abadi said in the conference.
“My call is for the peshmerga to be part of the federal forces and to operate under its command in order to secure these (disputed) areas,” he added.
Backed by Iraqi and international military aviation, the military operation to re-take Hawija and the nearby areas was launched on Sept. 21 with the participation of thousands of Iraqi troops, including the counterterrorism squad, the federal police, armed units, and some Popular Mobilization Units.
Lt. Gen. Ra’ad Jawdat, the commander of the Iraqi Federal Police during the operation, said 270 militants were killed, 640 square km of land was seized and 141 targets were liberated.
Dislodging Daesh militants from these areas is expected to take time; on the other hand, Iraqi forces did not need more than two days to liberate Hawija itself, military sources told Arab News.
Military officers and analysts said that the morale of Daesh fighters was significantly affected by the group’s huge losses in Mosul, Tal Afar and Shirqat towns during the last few months. Daesh lost more than 20,000 fighters during the military operations launched by the Iraqis to re-take Mosul, the largest Iraqi city seized by the extremists.
“Daesh fighters have been feeling that there was no point in fighting. Their will to fight was broken,” Maj. Gen. Abdulkareem Khalaf, former manager of operations at the Interior Ministry, told Arab News.
“Daesh leaders are fugitives, on the run, and unable to maintain contact with each other. Their central command is missing and the severe airstrikes carried out by US forces in the region prior to the launch of the operation all contributed to the militants’ rapid collapse,” Khalaf said.
Al-Abadi and several military officers contacted by Arab News said that the next target for the Iraqi security forces would be the western Iraqi-Syrian border which extends for more than 600 km.
“Gaining control of the borders means regaining control of security in Iraq. All our troubles and disasters over the last few years have come across the Syrian border,” Khalaf said.
“Al-Abadi’s next priority is securing the Iraqi border. The first stage will be the Iraqi-Syrian borders as the situation there is urgent; then the Iraqi-Turkish border, and the last stage will be securing the remainder,” he added.
Related reports — Page 6
4 Palestinians killed during border protests
- Two Palestinians were killed in a strike east of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza and one more near Rafah
- Airstrikes were continuing into the evening, with a number of explosions in different parts of Gaza
GAZA: Israeli forces unleashed a wave of strikes across the Gaza Strip on Friday after saying troops came under fire, killing three Hamas members as a fresh escalation heightened fears of wider conflict.
Fireballs exploded into the sky over the Palestinian enclave as the UN urged all sides to step “back from the brink” of war after months of tensions.
A fourth Palestinian was also shot dead during protests along the frontier with Israel, Gaza’s Health Ministry said.
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov said “everyone in Gaza needs to step back from the brink. Not next week. Not tomorrow. Right now!“
“Those who want to provoke Palestinians and Israelis into another war must not succeed,” he wrote on Twitter.
An Israeli army statement said shots were fired at troops during renewed protests along the Gaza-Israel frontier and “in response... aircraft and tanks targeted military targets throughout the Gaza Strip.”
It did not say if any Israeli soldiers were hurt in the shooting.
Two Palestinians were killed in a strike east of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza and one more near Rafah, the enclave’s health ministry said.
The military wing of Hamas named the three men as Shaban Abu Khatar, Mohammed Abu Farhana and Mahmoud Qushta, saying they were fighters.
Israel’s military said its aircraft and tanks had targeted “eight military posts” belonging to Hamas.
It said jets were conducting strikes in “various locations” as part of a “wide-scale attack.”
“Hamas chose to escalate the security situation and will bear the consequences for its actions,” the military warned.
Airstrikes were continuing into the evening, with a number of explosions in different parts of Gaza, AFP correspondents said.
Gaza’s Health Ministry said a fourth man named as Mohammed Badwan was later shot dead by Israeli forces during protests along the border.
Israeli media reported Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was receiving an emergency briefing from the army on the situation.
Last weekend saw the most severe exchange of fire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since a 2014 war, raising worries of another round of conflict.
Israel hit dozens of sites it said belonged to militants in the Gaza Strip in Saturday’s strikes, killing two Palestinian teenagers.
The same day, around 200 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel from Gaza and four Israelis were wounded when a rocket hit a house in the nearby Israeli city of Sderot.
For more than a week, Israel has been hardening its response to kites and incendiary balloons launched from Gaza
In recent days, the Israeli army has opened fire at groups launching such devices. Israel’s Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned of a “much tougher” response against Hamas if it fires more rockets from the Gaza Strip.
Israeli DefenSe Minister Avigdor Lieberman has raised the threat of a large-scale operation in the Gaza Strip if Hamas does not stop the kites and balloons being launched.
Israeli television this week broadcast footage of army training maneuvers for an incursion into the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu also conducted a tour along the border region for the first time since the start of the clashes.
Government officials such as Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan have called for systematic attacks on kite launchers.
Israel has also further tightened its blockade of Gaza by closing the only goods crossing, suspending oil and gas deliveries.