BAGHDAD: Iraqi forces launched an offensive on Saturday to retake the desert border town of Rawa, the final Daesh-held territory in Iraq, Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said at a press conference.
Iraq, along with its US-backed allies and Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), has been fighting Daesh for almost three years, and at one point the militants had control over almost a third of Iraqi territories in the northwest of the country, following their rout of Iraqi government forces in key cities in early 2014.
But once Rawa is regained, it will spell the end of Daesh’s organized military presence in the country — although pockets of resistance are likely to remain in the valleys, caves and tunnels scattered throughout the area.
“We will militarily eliminate terrorism, but you know that the problem of terrorism is an intellectual one,” Al-Abadi said. “It is a corrupt and deviant mind that calls for the mass killing of citizens.”
Rawa lies on the north bank of the River Euphrates, which surrounds it from three sides, while its fourth side is the Syrian border.
Paramilitary forces who oppose Daesh under the collective name of PMU have crossed the Euphrates and liberated Rawa’s Rumannah district — the town’s largest — as well as a number of villages, and have reached the Iraq-Syria border, Special Forces Lt. Gen. Abdul Ameer Rasheed Yar Allah, said in a statement on Saturday.
Military officers involved in the operation told Arab News that the operation has advanced “smoothly,” with little resistance.
“The operation could end on Sunday. There is no significant resistance and most of the militants have run to the border,” a senior Iraqi military officer, who asked to remain anonymous, told Arab News.
The three-year war against Daesh has cost Iraq $100 billion, Al-Abadi claimed on Saturday. More than 2.9 million people have been displaced, the majority of whom have been living in camps supervised by the Iraqi government and the UN.
Many Iraqis blame former Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki for allowing Daesh to take control of so much of Iraq, citing his government’s “sectarian policies” as a reason why so many cities and towns fell.
Al-Abadi has, in contrast, handed control of internal security of the liberated areas to their people.
The vast Sunni-dominated province of Anbar was the first Iraqi territory to embrace the message of Al-Qaeda and its offshoot, Daesh, over a decade ago. Anbar’s relationship with the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, like those of most Sunni cities in the north and west of Iraq, was chaotic and mistrustful.
By allowing local authorities some autonomy, Al-Abadi hopes to establish stronger relationships with Sunni-dominated areas.
“There are major changes taking place in the liberated western areas relating to the troops redeployment,” a senior military officer familiar with Al-Abadi’s plans told Arab News, on condition of anonymity.
“The army will supervise the border, while the local police and militias which mostly consist of men from these areas will be deployed inside the cities and towns,” the officer continued. “The Sunni tribal fighters will, of course, be a part of these forces.”
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