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Iraqi forces capture Hawija from Islamic State

Iraqi forces began advancing on Hawija on Wednesday [AFP]

Date of publication: 5 October, 2017

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Reports say Iraqi-government forces and their allied militias have retaken the Islamic State group's last northern Iraqi stronghold.
Iraq's military said on Thursday it has retaken the town of Hawija, the Islamic State group's last stronghold in northern Iraq.

The country's army and its allied Hashd al-Shaabi militia began advancing on the town on Wednesday, just days after capturing the Rashad air base which had been used by IS militants as a training camp.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi confirmed the reports in Paris on Thursday.

"I announce the liberation of the city of Hawija," Abadi said after talks with French President Emmanuel Macron. "All that remains is the strip on the border with Syria."

The Hawija offensive was launched in on September 21 by Iraq's army as part of its drive to dislodge the Islamic State group from the country.

Hawija was one of two territories held by the IS group in Iraq. The other area is along Iraq's western border with Syria.

 
     Read also: Two dudes embed in Hawija: An eyewitness account from the frontlines

Successive defeats this year in Tal Afar and now possibly in Hawija have dealt a huge blow to the Islamic State group, which lost its Iraqi 'capital' of Mosul in July.

This latest victory for Iraqi forces, however, may not spell the end for the militant group in the country.

With the Hamrin Mountains to the south west of Hawija, it has been suggested that the militants could flee to the higher terrain and regroup to form an insurgency.

Given the seniority of some of the IS leaders that were in Hawija, the prospect of an insurgency being born out of the town's collapse is a real possibility.

Hawija has been an insurgent bastion since soon after the US-led invasion of 2003.

Its mainly Sunni Arab population is deeply hostile both to the Shia-led government in Baghdad and to the Kurds who form the historic majority in adjacent areas.

Those rivalries enabled IS to cling on to what is one of just two enclaves it still holds in Iraq.

The Hawija area is one of just two enclaves in Iraq still held by IS and its recapture would mark a major symbolic and strategic victory for the government.

The town lies between the two main routes north from Baghdad to second city Mosul, recaptured from IS in July, and to Kirkuk and the autonomous Kurdish region.

Read also: After Hawija: What to expect from Islamic State's commanders

Security forces backed by paramilitary units launched an assault on the group's other Iraq pocket last month, thrusting up the Euphrates Valley towards the Syrian border in a bid to retake three towns there still held by IS. They have since retaken the town of Anna and are expected to target Raqqa and finally al-Qaim.

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