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Iraq faces tough battle against Daesh desert hideouts
November 28, 2017
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BAGHDAD: Iraqi forces said on Monday they face a tough battle against the Daesh group in deep gorges and other natural hideouts in the western desert along the Syrian border, their last bastion in Iraq.

“Our units have cleared 50 per cent of the total area of the desert of around 29,000 square kilometres (11,000 sq miles). The first phase is over,” General Yahya Rassoul, spokesman of the Joint Operations Command, told AFP.

“Now our units will proceed to clearing the rest of the desert zones, including Wadi (valley) Hauran,” he said.

“The valley is deep and reaches Syrian territory. The mission is to destroy all the hideouts in the desert and valleys to secure western Iraq’s border with Syria” before soldiers are posted along the frontier, he said.

Wadi Hauran, with 200-metre-deep (650-foot-deep) gorges, is the longest valley in Iraq, stretching 350 kilometres (210 miles) from the Saudi border to the Euphrates River, also reaching the frontier with Jordan.

The Daesh extremist group has controlled most of the valley in Anbar province since 2014, setting up arms depots and resupply posts.

Troops and paramilitaries launched the desert offensive on Thursday aiming to inflict a final defeat on Daesh.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said he will not proclaim victory until the extremists have been cleared from the western desert bordering Syria.

Recently, Iraqi forces thrust north from the Euphrates Valley into the desert on Saturday, opening up a new front in the drive to flush out fugitive Daesh group fighters, a commander told AFP.

Daesh has already been driven from all the towns it once held, but Abadi has said he will not proclaim victory until the extremists have been cleared from the western desert bordering Syria.

Troops and paramilitaries had advanced into the desert from the east and north on Thursday at the start of an offensive aimed at inflicting a final defeat on the extremists.

On Saturday, troops and tribal militia pushed north from Al-Qaim and Rawa, two Euphrates Valley towns recaptured from Daesh earlier this month, in a pincer movement against retreating Daesh fighters, one of the operation’s two commanders told reporters.

“It’s a matter of linking up with the forces advancing from Nineveh” province in the north, the commander said, asking not to be identified.


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