Iraqi military recaptures vital Isis stronghold of Hawija

Isis loses its last major urban position in Iraq as militants flee to desert border with Syria

Thursday 05 October 2017 07:01 BST
Iraqi forces and fighters from the Popular Mobilisation Units advance towards Isis’ stronghold of Hawija
Iraqi forces and fighters from the Popular Mobilisation Units advance towards Isis’ stronghold of Hawija (AFP/Getty)

Isis’ last urban stronghold in Iraq has been recaptured, the Iraqi military has said.

The town of Hawija and surrounding area were declared as freed from the jihadists’ rule for the first time since 2014, a statement on Thursday said.

“The army’s ninth armoured division, the Federal Police, the Emergency Response division and.... Popular Mobilisation Units liberated Hawija,” said joint operations commander, Lieutenant-General Abdul Ameer Rasheed Yarallah.

Footage shows Isis schoolgirl Linda Wenzel being captured in Iraq

A total of 196 militants were killed and 96 villages around the town were liberated during the fighting, he added.

US-backed Iraqi government troops and Iranian-trained Shia militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Units began the offensive on 21 September.

The UN estimated 78,000 people were trapped in Hawija and surrounding villages under Isis control. Thousands of civilians braved mines, Isis sniper fire and US-led coalition air strikes to flee the fighting.

The speedy conclusion to the operation means that Isis has now lost its last major position in the country. Many militants have fled to the desert town of al-Qaim and other positions along the border with Syria.

Isis is under pressure on both sides of the border and now clings on to a fraction of the territory that once formed part of its so-called caliphate across the two countries.

Isis’ control in Iraq effectively collapsed in July, when its de facto capital, the city of Mosul, was recaptured by coalition forces after a gruelling nine-month battle.

In Syria, US-backed Arab and Kurdish forces have retaken 90 per cent of Isis’ Syrian capital of Raqqa, and the Syrian government, backed by Russian air power and allied militias, is winning against the militants in the Deir Ezzor province.

As its once mighty caliphate crumbles, analysts expect Isis to morph into an insurgency group across both Syria and Iraq, and to step up terror attacks worldwide.

Last week, the first audio recording of Isis’ leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in almost a year – which proved he is still alive despite several reports of his death – called for supporters to keep fighting.

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