Iraqi forces led the Islamic state from the center of Tal Afar and its historic citadel, said Saturday, putting them on the point of fully resuming one of the last strongholds in the country.
Progress, a few days later, in a strategic city, comes six weeks after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has declared victory over jihadists in the second city of Mosul, where the jihadist group said its “caliphate” in 2014.
“Units of the Counter-Terrorism Service liberated areas of the Citadel and Basatrie and raised the Iraqi flag over the citadel,” Operation Commander General Abdulamir Yarallah said in a statement.
The CTS and federal police units were also seized from three northern districts and the Al-Rabia district west of the citadel, a day after taking the Al-Talia south district.
Clashes took place on the northern outskirts and Iraqi forces have occupied late pockets of jihadists inside the city, Yarallah said. The troops and government units of the Hash al-Shaabi paramilitary coalition, backed by a US-led coalition against the IS, launched the assault Sunday after weeks of air strikes by the coalition and Iraq.
Tal Afar is situated on a strategic road between SI-controlled territories in Syria and Mosul, 70 kilometers further east. Progress has been much faster than in Mosul, Iraq’s second city, which fell to Iraqi forces in July after a tough nine-month battle.
Officials said they were waiting to announce victory in Tal Afar by Eid al-Adha, the Muslim feast should begin in Iraq on 2 September. Most of the 200,000 inhabitants of Tal Afar, most of them Turkic Shiites whose beliefs are anathema to the Sunni strata has fled, while jihadists have arrived.
Pro-government forces have faced an obstacle blocked roads with landfills and strategically secured trucks, as well as the bombing of snipers and mortars. Troops also said they discovered a network of underground tunnels used by jihadists to launch attacks behind the lines of territory already conquered or to escape.
The International Organization for Migration said “thousands of civilians” had fled Tal Afar since the start of the offensive. People fleeing the desert areas face high temperatures for long periods, exposing them to the risk of dehydration, said Viren Falcao, the Danish Council for Refugees.
Once Tal Afar resumes, Baghdad is expected to launch a new offensive in Hawija, 300 kilometers north of Baghdad. SI is also present in the vast western province of Anbar, where it controls several areas along the border with Syrian Syria devastated by the war, including Al-Qaim.
The jihadist group lost much of the controlled territory and thousands of combatants died. France’s foreign and defense ministers visited Baghdad to pledge support from their countries in the fight against the tax.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defense Minister Florence Parly, who arrived in the Iraqi capital last night, were to meet Abadi. French forces carried out air strikes and artillery in support of Iraqi operations. “As long as our common enemy has not been eradicated, France will continue to participate” in the campaign, Parly said.