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Iraq forces attack IS-held town of Hawija
By Sammy Ketz
Baghdad (AFP) Sept 29, 2017

At least 1,200 Iraq personnel killed in Mosul operation: coalition
Washington (AFP) Sept 29, 2017 - At least 1,200 Iraqi security personnel were killed during the operation to recapture Mosul from the Islamic State group, the US-led coalition against the jihadists said on Friday.

"The October 2016 to July 2017 battle to liberate Mosul reflects a significant sacrifice by our Iraqi partners, who lost 1,200-1,500 personnel in action, with an approximate 8,000 more wounded," the coalition said in a statement.

It did not provide a breakdown of casualties among the various forces that took part in the grueling battle.

The July recapture of Mosul, a city that IS seized more than three years before, was the biggest defeat the jihadists had been dealt since the war to push them back began.

Iraqi forces often release figures for IS fighters they say they have killed, but are extremely reticent about their own losses.

IS overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes and other support have since regained most of the territory they lost.

Anti-IS 'sheikh sniper' killed in battle for Iraq's Hawija
Basra, Iraq (AFP) Sept 30, 2017 - A veteran fighter known as "the sheikh of snipers" has been killed in Iraq's battle to retake the town of Hawija from the Islamic State group, his paramilitary force announced Saturday.

Abu Tahsin al-Salhi, who took part in conflicts dating back to the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and said he had gunned down at least 320 IS jihadists, died on Friday.

He was killed as he advanced on Hawija in northwest Iraq, said Ahmad al-Assadi, spokesman for the Hashed al-Shaabi alliance mostly of Shiite militias fighting alongside government forces against the last jihadist bastions.

At his funeral on Saturday near the southern port city of Basra, close friend Ahmad Ali Hussein said the marksman was widely known by comrades as "the sheikh of snipers" or "hawk eye".

A grey-bearded hulk of a man who drove an offroad motorbike and wore a black-and-white chequered scarf and fingerless mittens, Abu Tahsin was inseparable from his Austrian-manufactured Steyr rifle.

In a Hashed video, the 63-year-old warrior gives a rundown of his career as a sniper, starting in 1973 when he was part of an Iraqi brigade fighting on Syria's Golan Heights.

He also fought in late dictator Saddam Hussein's 1980-1988 war against Iran, his 1990 invasion of Kuwait and against US troops who toppled Saddam in 2003, before turning his sights on IS.

"Today, I gunned down two of them (IS fighters). That's ridiculous -- the minimum for me is four," he says in the video. In anti-IS battles in 2015 "I killed 173 of them, and now I'm at 320."

Service member with the US-led coalition killed in Iraq
Washington (AFP) Oct 2, 2017 - A roadside bomb blast killed a military member of the US-led coalition in Iraq fighting the Islamic State group, the US military said Monday.

The two-paragraph announcement, which did not state the victim's nationality, said "the service member was killed and another wounded when an IED [improvised explosive device] struck their vehicle Oct.1 in Iraq."

The names "and circumstances surrounding the incident are being held pending notification of next of kin," and will be released "at the discretion of the pertinent national authorities," the statement read.

Nations that participate in Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led effort to defeat the Islamic State group, include the United States, Canada, and several NATO countries.

Iraqi forces Friday launched an assault on the northern town of Hawija, one of the last bastions in the country still held by the Islamic State group, which is also under attack in neighbouring Syria.

The operation came a day after IS released what it said was an audio recording of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi urging resistance, the first such intervention in nearly a year.

"The leaders of the Islamic State and its soldiers have realised that the path to... victory is to be patient and resist the infidels whatever their alliances," said the voice in the recording, whose authenticity Washington said it had "no reason to doubt".

Since Baghdadi's previous message to his followers last November, the territory the jihadists still hold in the cross-border caliphate they proclaimed in 2014 has shrunk to a fraction of its former extent.

"A huge military operation has begun to liberate Hawija and its surrounding areas," the operation's commander, Lieutenant General Abdel Amir Yarallah, said in a statement.

Iraqi forces launched an offensive to retake the jihadist enclave around Hawija on September 21, swiftly taking the town of Sharqat on its second day before pushing on towards Hawija itself.

Yarallah said Friday's assault marked the second phase of the operation and aimed to recapture Hawija and the towns of Al-Abbasi, Riyadh and Rashad to its west, east and south.

All are mainly Sunni Arab towns that have long been bastions of insurgency and were bypassed by government forces in their push north on second city Mosul last year which culminated in the jihadists' defeat in their most emblematic stronghold this July.

Yarallah later announced that troops had taken Al-Abbasi and raised the Iraqi flag there.

He said the operation involved the army, the federal police, counterterrorism units and the Rapid Intervention Force, as well as tribal volunteers and the paramilitary Popular Mobilisation force, mainly made up of Iran-trained Shiite militia.

The enclave lies east of the Tigris River and south of one of its major tributaries, the Little Zab, and troops erected pontoon bridges during the night to enable the assault to begin, Yarallah said.

The Popular Mobilisation force said IS had set fire to two oil wells in the Alas field, southeast of Hawija, in a bid to provide cover and slow the advance of loyalist forces.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi hailed the second phase of the operation to recapture the area.

"As we promised the sons of our country, we are going to liberate every inch of Iraqi land and crush the Daesh (IS) terrorist gangs," Abadi said.

"We are on the verge of a new victory to liberate the residents of these areas from those criminals."

The Hawija enclave is one of just two areas of Iraq still held by IS, along with a stretch of the Euphrates Valley near the Syrian border which is also under attack.

The US-led coalition against the jihadists said Friday that at least 1,200 Iraqi security personnel were killed during the months-long operation to recapture Mosul.

The international coalition against IS also said that US-led air strikes in Iraq and Syria have killed another 50 civilians, without specifying when.

It said that with the latest deaths, "at least 735 civilians have been unintentionally killed by coalition strikes".

- Deadly counterattack in Syria -

Further up the Euphrates Valley on the Syrian side of the border, IS is facing rival offensives by US-backed fighters and Russian-backed government forces.

The jihadists launched a major counteroffensive against government forces on Thursday, killing at least 73 troops and militia in a series of attacks along their supply lines, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Most of the dead came near the desert town of Sukhna, on the main highway between the big cities of the west and the Euphrates Valley city of Deir Ezzor, the Britain-based monitoring group said.

Syrian troops pushed through the desert and broke a three-year IS siege of government enclaves in Deir Ezzor earlier this month. They are now battling to retake the remaining IS posts.

Further upstream, a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters is poised to capture the onetime IS bastion of Raqa, once a byword for jihadist atrocities.

A top US-led coalition commander told AFP on Thursday that the jihadists were now breathing their "last gasps" in the city.

He said the coalition was already setting its sights on another IS-held town in the Euphrates Valley -- Al-Mayadeen, between Deir Ezzor and the Iraqi border.

Iraqi forces find IS mass grave west of Mosul
Mosul, Iraq (AFP) Sept 29, 2017 - Iraqi forces have discovered a mass grave west of second city Mosul containing dozens of bodies of Islamic State group fighters probably killed in an air strike, officials said Friday.

"It's the first mass grave of this kind to have been discovered" near Tal Afar, some 70 kilometres (40 miles) west of Mosul, local official Abdelaal Abbas said.

Iraqi forces retook Mosul from IS in July and Tal Afar in late August, three years after the jihadists overran the northern Iraqi cities.

"IS would throw the bodies of its fighters... in a deep pit seven kilometres (four miles) north of Tal Afar," Abbas said.

A security official in the wider Nineveh province, Mohammed Ibrahim al-Bayati, using an Arabic acronym for IS, said that "around 40 bodies belonging to Daesh" were found in the pit.

Another security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the bodies were those of "men and women, some probably Chechen or Turkish".

"It's likely these IS members were killed several months ago during an air strike and not during the offensive of Iraqi forces to oust the jihadists from Tal Afar."

The names of the jihadists and when they were killed appeared on memorial plaques near the grave, the source added.

The jihadist group has seen the territory it controls dwindle considerably since it seized large swathes of Iraq and neighbouring Syria in 2014.

In Iraq, their presence has been reduced to the northern town of Hawija -- where Iraqi forces began an offensive on Friday -- and a stretch of the Euphrates Valley near the border with Syria.

Iraq says defeats IS infiltration near Ramadi
Ramadi, Iraq (AFP) Sept 27, 2017
Islamic State group fighters seized areas around Ramadi, west of Baghdad, on Wednesday in an apparent attempt at a diversion from offensives on its last Iraqi footholds but were swiftly defeated, security sources said. The jihadist infiltrators briefly occupied three areas near the city, which is the capital of mainly Sunni Arab Anbar province, long a bastion of insurgency, the sources said. ... read more

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