Iraqi Prime Minister: Iraqi forces have retaken Al-Qaim from Daesh
Iraqi Prime Minister: Iraqi forces have retaken Al-Qaim from Daesh
Iraqi security forces, backed by the US-led international coalition and Shiite-dominated paramilitaries, have been pushing to gain control over the vast desert of Anbar, Daesh’s last bastion in Iraq. It includes many towns along the Iraq-Syria border, which extends for more than 600 km.
Baghdad has regained control of more than 90 percent of Iraqi territory seized by Daesh. While the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) liberated Al-Qaim, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) liberated the town of Karrabla along the southern Euphrates, said Lt. Gen. Abdulamir Rashid Yarallah, commander of the Western Anbar Clearance Operation.
Security forces also recaptured the Hussieba border crossing in Al-Qaim that leads to Deir Ezzor, Daesh’s largest stronghold in Syria, Yarallah said.
Al-Abadi congratulated Iraqis on Al-Qaim’s liberation in a “record period.” The main goals of the military operation, which was launched on Oct. 26, is to retake the border crossings between Iraq and Syria, and to cut Daesh’s cross-border supply routes, military officers told Arab News.
“We have to reopen all the crossings with Syria, but we can’t do this before completely clearing the area of militants,” one of them said.
A “huge security and intelligence” operation to scan the area and destroy Daesh hideouts is being planned, the officer added. “The area is full of hidden camps.”
The operation is relying on equipment from the US-led coalition, including drones and satellites, to scan the desert, military sources told Arab News.
Although the military map circulated by the media war cell on Friday evening showed that the forces liberated more than 60 percent of the targeted region, several military officers involved in the campaign said that “the operation is still in its infancy.”
“We cannot say when the operation will end. We are still at the very beginning of the first stage of the operation,” a senior military officer told Arab News.
“Most areas located on the northern bank of the Euphrates are still in the hands of the militants,” the officer said. “Also, we know that the area is full of hidden camps (for the militants), so we cannot say we fully liberated (the area) till we find all the terror camps and destroy them.”
Gutted Syrian town begins modest reconstruction, street by street
- Mountains of rubble still block many of the main thoroughfares in Harasta, a town outside Damascus
- After a blistering weeks-long assault, Syria’s government recaptured it in March
HARASTA, Syria: Khaled’s delicate hands were accustomed to cutting and styling hair in his Syrian hometown Harasta. Now, they’re hauling concrete and sweeping floors to repair homes ravaged by years of fighting.
Mountains of rubble still block many of the main thoroughfares in Harasta, a town outside Damascus held for nearly five years by armed rebels.
After a blistering weeks-long assault, Syria’s government recaptured it in March, and displaced families have been trickling back to check if their homes survived.
Khaled, 35, watches them cross a security checkpoint and approaches to pitch his services: knocking down walls, clearing rubble, and sweeping up debris.
“I used to be a barber, but now I’m a laborer. I wait for families to enter and offer them my services in cleaning and restoration,” he says.
Khaled fled Harasta in 2012 to the nearby town of Al-Tal, where he still lives with his family. Every day, the father of three commutes to Harasta to find work.
His own house still stands, but he cannot return yet: temporary security measures dictate that people who live outside the town cannot stay past nightfall.
“I work with three other people. We use hammers, brooms, and buckets of water. Work is on and off,” he says.
“Clients pay us whatever they can afford.”
Harasta lies in Eastern Ghouta, recaptured this spring by Syrian troops with a deal that saw thousands of rebels and civilians bussed to opposition territory elsewhere.
Others, like 45-year-old Hassan, chose not to leave.
The former petrol station worker remained in Harasta throughout the rebel reign and decided to stay in its aftermath, too.
Hassan now works with Khaled, transporting rocks and other materials in his pick-up truck to construction sites.
“This is the only work in Harasta that pays right now,” says Hassan, wearing a dirty wool sweater despite the heat.
Harasta was once home to 250,000 people, most of them Syrians from elsewhere in the country who worked in the capital but sought cheap rent.
Now, just 15,000 people remain, town officials estimate, unable to leave until security forces clear their names.
With the use of personal cars banned, boys get around on bicycles while women and toddlers shuffle along on foot.
Many of Harasta’s large residential blocks or industrial complexes have been pulverized by strikes, artillery, and mortars.
They stand like massive grey honeycombs overlooking dusty streets still stripped of signs of life, months after fighting has stopped.
Mohammad Naaman, 50, was terrified his home would be among those gutted by fighting — and can hardly contain himself when he finds it still standing.
“I was shocked to see most buildings collapsed. It’s true my house is devastated compared to before, but I’m happy it’s still there at all,” says Naaman.
He, too, fled to Al-Tal in 2012 and still lives there.
The doors and windows of his Harasta home have been blown out and cracks run up the walls, threatening collapse.
But in the living room, a layer of dust blankets plastic flowers still standing in their vases.
“Whatever happens, it’s still my house, and my house is so dear to me,” Naaman says.
Like his neighbors, Naaman’s first step was removing the rubble and debris from his home, dumping them into the main street nearby according to instructions by local authorities.
Vehicles provided by the public works ministry transport the rubble to a local dump, separating metal out so that concrete can be turned back to cement and reused.
“We removed 110,000 cubic meters of rubble from the streets, but there’s still more than 600,000 to go,” says Adnan Wezze, who heads the town council running Harasta since the regime’s recapture.
As he speaks, a demolition digger works on a two-story building. Its metal arm reaches up to the roof and picks off slabs of concrete precariously perched there.
Authorities are working fast to demolish buildings “at risk of collapse, because they present a public safety threat,” says Wezze.
Many urban hubs across Syria, particularly around Damascus, have been hard-hit by hostilities, and President Bashar Assad said this month rebuilding would be his “top priority.”
But Law 10, a recent decree which allows for the expropriation of property to redevelop an area, sparked fears that millions of displaced Syrians would not get the opportunity to make a claim to their land.
Wezze insists that Harasta’s modest efforts were fair.
“We only demolish after getting permission from the owners,” he says.
If they are not present, Wezze adds, “their rights are still protected. We’ve requested proof of property even before areas are designated as development projects.”
“No resident of Harasta will lose his rights — whether they’re here or in exile.”