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IRAQ WARS
Iraq hits IS commanders, Baghdadi fate unclear: statement
by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) Feb 13, 2017


Iraq forces foil IS attempt to flee to Syria: spokesman
Baghdad (AFP) Feb 13, 2017 - Iraqi forces have thwarted an attempt by around 200 jihadist fighters to flee their bastion of Tal Afar towards Syria, west of the city of Mosul, a security spokesman said Monday.

Forces from the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation), a paramilitary organisation dominated by Shiite militia groups, said the Islamic State group used tanks in their bid to break out of Tal Afar.

"The attack by the Daesh (IS) terrorist gangs started at around 7:00 pm (1600 GMT on Sunday), the fighting lasted around six hours," their spokesman Ahmed al-Assadi told AFP.

Hashed forces have been deployed in desert areas west of Mosul since federal forces launched a massive operation to retake the city from IS on October 17.

Their main goals are to retake Tal Afar, a Turkmen-majority city which is still held by IS, and to prevent the jihadists from being able to move men and equipment between Mosul and their strongholds in Syria.

"This was an attempt by Daesh to open a breach, flee to the Syria border and exfiltrate some leaders and fighters," Assadi said.

He said that Hashed forces received support from army aviation helicopters when IS attacked them. He added that the fighting left around 50 IS members killed and 17 of their vehicles destroyed.

Assadi did not provide a casualty figure for the Hashed al-Shaabi following the attack, which took place around 20 kilometres (12 miles) southwest of Tal Afar.

IS jihadists are confined to a corridor between Tal Afar and Mosul by tens of thousands of forces deployed on several fronts.

After retaking the eastern side of Mosul last month, Iraqi forces are preparing to launch an assault on the west bank of the city.

The early stages of the Mosul offensive saw IS move fighters between Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqa, its other major urban stronghold, but their supply lines have now been cut off.

The Iraqi air force has targeted a meeting of commanders from the Islamic State group that its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may have been attending, a statement said on Monday.

It was not clear in the statement sent by the Joint Operations Command coordinating the fight against the jihadists in Iraq whether the world's most wanted terrorist had been hit.

An intelligence cell monitored a convoy that the statement said transported Baghdadi from the area of Raqa, the jihadists' main Syrian stronghold, across the border to the Al-Qaim area in western Iraq.

The statement said Iraqi air force F-16 jets struck a meeting of top IS commanders on February 11 but provided no additional information on Baghdadi's fate.

"The direct strike on the meeting location led to the death of 13 Daesh (IS) commanders," said the statement, which provided a list of names.

The Iraq-born Baghdadi, who proclaimed a "caliphate" straddling Iraq and Syria in June 2014, was not one of those names.

The Iraqi military has reported Baghdadi killed or wounded on numerous occasions since it launched a counter-offensive to regain the territory lost to IS almost three years ago.

Iraq's military said dozens of other IS militants were also killed in other strikes in the same area as part of the operation last week.

Baghdadi's health is unknown, but the Pentagon said six weeks ago that he was still alive and leading IS as it tries to defend the remnants of its crumbling "caliphate".

In the statement issued on Monday, the Iraqi military claimed that Baghdadi had come to the border area to discuss with his commanders "the setbacks taking place in Mosul".

Mosul is Iraq's second city and the largest ever held by IS.

After a string of major losses in both Iraq and Syria, the jihadists' two main strongholds of Mosul and Raqa are both under attack from forces backed by a US-led coalition.

Iraqi forces have already retaken the eastern side of Mosul and, nearly four months into a massive offensive to recapture the city, they are now readying for an assault on the west side.

In mid-December, the United States more than doubled the bounty on the shadowy IS leader's head to $25 million.


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