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Iraq forces launch assault on 'final IS-held pocket'

Recapturing the last pocket will mark the end of IS in Iraq [AFP]

Date of publication: 11 November, 2017

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Iraqi national armed forces have advanced on al-Rumana, days after liberating al-Qaim from Islamic State militants in a lightning offensive.

Iraqi forces launched an offensive to recapture the last pocket of territory in the country still held by the Islamic State group on Saturday, the operation's commander said.

Troops backed by militia recruited among the region's Sunni Arab tribes "launched a major offensive to liberate Rumana and the Rawa area,", General Abdelamir Yarallah said.

The Euphrates valley town of Rawa and nearby villages were bypassed by government troops and allied militia when they retook the Syrian border town of al-Qaim last week.

Home to around 8,900 people, mostly from Sunni tribes, Rumana is located on the north side of the Euphrates in west Anbar Governorate.

Rawa is the last town still held by IS apart from Albu Kamal, al-Qaim's twin town just across the Syrian border where the jihadists were still battling Damascus troops and allied forces on Saturday after mounting a surprise counterattack late on Thursday.

The Syrian army had declared victory in the battle for Albu Kamal but IS fighters pushed back in from the desert to the north where they still control a strip of territory between areas held by government troops and by US-backed Kurdish-led forces.

"IS started counter-attacking on Thursday night and retook more than 40 percent of the town of Albu Kamal," Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based Observatory, told AFP.

Albu Kamal was the last significant town to have been under full IS control and lies at the heart of what used to be the sprawling "caliphate" the group declared in 2014 over swathes of Iraq and Syria.

But the recapture of the Rawa pocket would mark the final battleground defeat of IS in Iraq and sound the death knell of the “caliphate”.

Many of the group's top leaders have been killed as Syrian and Iraqi forces with backing from Russia, Iran and a US-led coalition rolled back the territorial losses that saw the militants declare a "caliphate" roughly the size of Britain.

But the whereabouts of the first among them, self-proclaimed "caliph" Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remains unclear. He has been reported killed or wounded many times but IS has never offered any confirmation.

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