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Iraq launches final anti-Daesh sweep
November 24, 2017
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BAGHDAD: Iraqi forces launched an operation on Thursday to clear the desert bordering Syria of Daesh in a final push to rid Iraq of the militant group, the military said.

Troops from the Iraqi army and mainly Shiite paramilitaries known as Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) were taking part in the campaign against militants hiding in a large strip of border land, Iraqi military officials said.

“The objective behind the operation is to prevent remaining Daesh groups from melting into the desert region and using it as a base for future attacks,” said army colonel Salah Kareem.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi said on Tuesday Daesh had been defeated from a military perspective, but he would declare final victory only after the militants were routed in the desert.

In the latest operation, Iraqi forces had “purified” 77 villages and exerted control over a bridge and an airport, operations commander Lieutenant General Abdul Ameer Rasheed Yarallah said in a statement. Over 5,800 squared kilometres had been “purified,” he added.

On Friday Iraqi forces captured the border town of Rawa, the last remaining town under Daesh control. Iraqi army commanders say the military campaign will continue until all the frontier with Syria is secured to prevent Daesh from launching cross border attacks.

“We will completely secure the desert from all terrorist groups of Daesh and declare Iraq clean of those germs,” said army Brigadier General Shakir Kadhim.

Army officials said troops advancing through sprawling desert towards the Syria border are facing landmines and roadside bombs placed by retreating militants.

“We need to clean scattered villages from terrorists to make sure they no longer operate in the desert area with Syria,” said army Lieutenant-Colonel Ahmed Fairs.

Iraqi military helicopters provided cover for the advancing troops and destroyed at least three vehicles used by militants as they were trying to flee a village in the western desert, said the army officer.

Meanwhile, a prominent Iraqi militia indicated on Thursday it would give any heavy weapons it had to the military once Daesh was defeated and rejected a proposed US congressional bill designating it a terrorist group.

Harakat Hizbollah Al Nujaba, which has about 10,000 fighters, is one of the most important militias in Iraq. Though made up of Iraqis, it is loyal to Iran and is helping Tehran create a supply route through Iraq to Damascus.

The Nujaba fights under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a mostly Iranian-backed coalition of Shi’ite militias that played a role in combating Daesh.

Disarming the PMF is seen as Abadi’s most difficult test as Iraqi forces edge closer to declaring victory over the militants.

“The heavy weapons belong to the Iraqi government, not us. We are not rebels or agents of chaos and we do not want to be a state within a state,” Hashim Al Mouasawi, the group’s spokesman, said at a news conference on Thursday.

He was responding to a reportersquestion on whether his group would obey orders by Abadi, who as prime minister commands the military, to return heavy weaponry, reduce the number of fighters, or withdraw from Syria. He would not be drawn on the reduction of fighters or Syria.

“The PMF is under the command of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and naturally when the war is over and victory is declared, the final decision will be his,” Mouasawi said.

His comments broadly echoed those of Iraqi military spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Rasool.


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