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TERROR WARS
IS hopes to hold onto shreds of 'caliphate': US official
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) March 8, 2017


Iraq PM says won't hesitate to strike jihadists in nearby countries
Baghdad (AFP) March 8, 2017 - Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Wednesday that he will not hesitate to strike "terrorist sites" in neighbouring countries, after Baghdad carried out air raids in Syria last month.

"I will not hesitate to strike terrorist sites in neighbouring countries, if they threaten the security of Iraq," Abadi said in a speech in north Iraq, footage of which was posted online.

Iraqi forces are fighting to retake Mosul from the Islamic State group, but the jihadists also hold significant territory in neighbouring Syria.

Abadi announced Iraqi strikes against IS near the border in Syria that were believed to be the first of their kind by Baghdad's forces.

Emerging from the chaos of the civil war in neighbouring Syria, IS seized control of large parts of Syria and Iraq in mid-2014, declaring its Islamic "caliphate" and committing widespread atrocities.

Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes and other support have since regained much of the territory they lost to the jihadists.

The Islamic State group has lost most of the land it once held in Iraq and Syria but hopes to cling to scraps of a self-declared caliphate, a US official said Wednesday.

Since summer 2014, when IS was at its peak just ahead of the US-led war on the group, the jihadists have lost 65 percent of the land they'd seized across much of northern Syria and large parts of Iraq, the US defense official said.

IS now is looking beyond the seemingly inevitable loss of their strongholds of Mosul in Iraq and Raqa in Syria.

"I don't think they have given up on their vision of their caliphate yet," the official said, noting IS hopes to hold on to parts of eastern Syria and western Iraq.

"They still believe they can function and are still making plans to continue to function as a pseudo-state centered in the Euphrates River valley."

In Mosul, Iraqi security forces backed by Western air power have recaptured the eastern side of the city and are making gradual progress into the western side in a bloody fight.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to still be trapped under jihadist rule in the Old City, where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed a "caliphate" in his only public appearance in July 2014.

The official said Baghdadi is no longer in Mosul, and the hunt for the enigmatic figure is being led by groups outside the US-led anti-IS coalition, including US special operations forces.

IS jihadists realize their days are numbered in Mosul and, despite having spent two years building defensive measures in Raqa, also understand they will lose that bastion too, the official said.

"Logically, any of those leaders would look at that situation and say from a military perspective this may be not be tenable for us to hold," the official said.

"Raqa would probably not be the final battle against ISIS... There is still ISIS in the rest of the Euphrates river valley downstream that will have to be dealt with."

About 15,000 IS fighters remain in Iraq and Syria, including some 2,500 in Mosul and the neighboring town of Tal Afar and as many as 4,000 still in Raqa, the official said.

TERROR WARS
Turkey, Russia, US military chiefs seek better coordination against IS
Istanbul (AFP) March 8, 2017
The top generals of the Turkish, Russian and US military met Tuesday in a bid to step up coordination in Syria and avoid clashes between rival forces in the fight against Islamic State (IS) group jihadists. The meeting between Turkish Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford and Russian Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov appears to be the first ... read more

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