Iraq army recaptures Hawija from 'Islamic State'

Oct 06, 2017, 00:23
Iraq army recaptures Hawija from 'Islamic State'

Iraqi forces have captured the town of Hawija and the surrounding area from Islamic State.

A photographer working with Iraqs military was killed in clashes on Wednesday during an assault to re-capture the northern town of Hawija, one of the Islamic State group's last strongholds, the IraqiNews.com news site reported.

Its geographical location in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk and its proximity to Mosul and the Iraqi Kurdish region has made it a centre of conflict between rival powers ever since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris for talks on the worldwide fight against Islamic State group extremists and rebuilding Iraq's economy.

Government and allied forces, backed by a US-led coalition, launched an offensive last month to oust ISIL from Hawija.

The jihadist group still controls large parts of the valley in the neighbouring Syrian province of Deir al-Zour, but it is under pressure there from Syrian pro-government forces and a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters. Iraqi security forces said IS militants were preventing some people from leaving and might have laid explosives around the town.

The troops continued chasing IS militants during the day and liberated many villages around Hawijah before they pushed into the nearby town of Ryadh and took full control of its neighborhoods, Yarallah said in a separate statement. "All that remains is the strip on the border with Syria", he added.

"Today we are in Hawija and thank God it is completely liberated", said Zamer Jabbar, a member of the Shiite-dominated Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary units fighting against IS alongside government forces.

As many as 78,000 civilians were trapped in Hawija by the fighting, according to United Nations estimates.

Hawija lies between the two main routes north from Baghdad - to Mosul and to the city of Kirkuk and the autonomous Kurdish region - and it recapture is both a symbolic and a strategic victory for the government. The town was among the last IS strongholds in Iraq after troops retook the northern city of Mosul earlier this year.

Iraq and its neighbors have rejected the Kurdish region's independence referendum last month, and Baghdad has banned global flights and threatened to take control of the autonomous Kurdish region's borders.

The attack means the only territory ISIS has left in Iraq is a stretch alongside the western border with Syria.

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