Iraqi Forces Enter al-Qaim in 'Last Big Fight' against ISIS

Nov 04, 2017, 00:37
Iraqi Forces Enter al-Qaim in 'Last Big Fight' against ISIS

Syrian government forces and their pro-government allies first broke the militant group's siege of their part of the city in September and have been advancing against ISIS positions since then.

The development is the latest significant defeat for IS as the militant group sees its self-proclaimed "caliphate" crumble and lose nearly all urban strongholds.

Syrian troops backed by Russian Federation and Kurdish-led forces supported by the United States are now racing toward Boukamal from opposite sides of the Euphrates River, triggering concerns that a proxy showdown could ensue between the two sides.

Islamic State still controls parts of Deir al-Zor province, its territory extending across the border to neighboring Iraq where Iraqi forces are waging a separate offensive against the militant group. It is also the largest city to be recaptured by the Syrian government from ISIS.

IS, which at its peak controlled territory roughly the size of Britain, has suffered a string of losses in recent months in both Syria and Iraq.

Despite its defeats on the battlefield, analysts are warning that IS is not down and out in the absence of a political vision to ensure stability in Iraq and Syria.

American officials, including President Trump, "insisted that the United States was not taking sides in the dispute, but some analysts say that the United States approved the Iraqi plan to enter Kurdish-held areas and that Iran helped broker the agreement with a Kurdish faction to withdraw its fighters from Kirkuk, allowing the Iraqi forces to take over largely unopposed", says The New York Times.

ISIS was pushed from Qaim on Friday, the terror group's last major stronghold in Iraq, according to the office of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. The militants still hold about a third of the province, including the border town of Bukamal.

Iraq's Joint Operations Command said earlier that troops had "regained full control" of the Husaybah border post on the edge of Al-Qaim.

The fall of Al-Qaim leaves IS fighters in Iraq holding just the smaller neighbouring town of Rawa and surrounding pockets of barren desert along the Euphrates river.

"Several terrorists were killed and a number of booby-trapped vehicles destroyed during the operation", he said, adding that most remaining ISIS militants had since fled the area towards Al-Qaim.

On the other side of the border, Syrian regime forces are now around 30 kilometres (18 miles) from Albu Kamal.

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