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Iraq announces victory over Islamic State militants in Tal Afar

Victory was declared after a 12-day battle against IS militants [AFP]

Date of publication: 31 August, 2017

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Iraq declared that its forces had retaken the northern city of Tal Afar and the surrounding region on Thursday, in another major victory over Islamic State group militants.
Iraqi forces battling the Islamic State grouped declared victory in Tal Afar and the surrounding region on Thursday, after weeks of intense fighting.

The 12-day battle by Iraqi forces backed by coalition airstrikes and paramilitary fighters came to an end on Thursday, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced, stating that Tal Afar had "regained its place in the national territory".

He vowed to liberate "every inch of Iraqi territory" from the group.

"We say to the criminals of IS: wherever you are, we're coming to liberate it and you have no choice but to die or surrender," Abadi said.

The fall of Tal Afar, located in the northern province of Nineveh, deprives IS of what was once a key supply hub between its territory in Iraq and neighbouring Syria. 

In a statement, the coalition against IS congratulated Abadi and the Iraqi security forces (ISF) "on their stunning victory in Tal Afar" and Nineveh province.

But it cautioned that "dangerous work remains to completely remove explosive devices, identify IS fighters in hiding and eliminate any remaining holdouts so they do not threaten the security of Tal Afar in the future."

Brigadier General Andrew A. Croft, deputy commander of the coalition, told AFP that Iraqi forces had killed between 600 and 700 IS fighters during the battle for Tal Afar while around 100 more had surrendered.

IS, which seized nearly a third of Iraq in 2014 in a stunning defeat for the army, now controls just 10 percent of the country, according to the US-led international coalition against the extremists.

IS overran Tal Afar, a Shia enclave in the predominantly Sunni province, in June 2014. 

The city lies around 450 kilometres (240 miles) northwest of the capital Baghdad and about 70 kilometres (40 miles) west of Mosul, Iraq's second city.

At the time Tal Afar had a population of around 200,000, but officials said when the battle to recapture the city was launched on August 20 that it was unknown how many remained.

Officials have said the capture of Tal Afar would make it even more difficult for extremists to transport fighters and weapons between Iraq and Syria.

Progress in Tal Afar was far more rapid than in Mosul, Iraq's second city which fell only after a gruelling nine-month battle that began in October 2016.

IS has also suffered major losses in Syria, where US-backed fighters have retaken more than half of the group's de facto Syrian capital Raqqa.

Iraqi authorities are now expected to launch a new offensive against IS in their stronghold of Hawija in Kirkuk province.

But the battle for Hawija is expected to be more complicated because of its location.

Oil-rich Kirkuk province is at the centre of a long dispute and a source of lingering tensions between the Iraqi federal government and the regional Kurdish authorities.

An offensive targeting Hawija could also be postponed due to a referendum on Kurdish independence planned for September 25, which Baghdad has called "untimely".

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