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Daesh loses its last stronghold in northern Iraq

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi on Thursday declared the end of the militant organization, Daesh, in northern Iraq after security forces, backed by a US-led military coalition and the Shiite-dominated paramilitary troops, retook the town of Hawija and the adjacent areas.
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

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