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Iraqi forces seize village in one of last IS bastions
by Staff Writers
Al-Sagra, Iraq (AFP) Sept 19, 2017

Major battlefronts against IS in Syria and Iraq
Beirut (AFP) Sept 20, 2017 - The Islamic State group has lost swathes of territory in its self-declared caliphate in recent months, including its former Iraq hub Mosul and 90 percent of its onetime Syria bastion Raqa.

Here are the main battlefronts where IS is under attack in Syria and Iraq:


RAQA: Raqa was once the de facto Syrian capital of IS's self-declared caliphate, but the group has now lost 90 percent of the city to US-backed fighters.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, worked for months to encircle the city, which had become a byword for the worst of IS's atrocities during its years under jihadist rule.

In June, the SDF broke into the city for the first time and, with support from a US-led coalition, now controls 90 percent of it, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The battle initially moved quickly, but slowed when the SDF reached the more densely populated city centre.

Its advance has been assisted by heavy US-led air strikes that have reportedly killed hundreds of civilians.

Estimates of the number of civilians still in the city range from fewer than 10,000 to as many as 25,000.

DEIR EZZOR: IS's other main stronghold in Syria is the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, which borders IS-held territory in Iraq.

Two separate offensives are under way against the jihadists in the area -- one by the US-backed SDF, the other by Russian-backed government forces.

Regime troops advanced across the desert from the west to relieve two besieged garrisons in the city of Deir Ezzor, down the Euphrates Valley from Raqa.

The army now controls around 70 percent of the city and is battling to oust IS from the remainder, according to the Britain-based Observatory.

The SDF advanced from the north to assault IS on the east bank of the Euphrates, capturing more than 500 square kilometres (190 square miles) of territory, according to the US-led coalition.

On Monday, government forces crossed to the east bank of the river, where commanders said they came under fire from the SDF.

Moscow said the US-backed force was impeding the battle against IS, a charge dismissed by Washington.

OTHER POCKETS: IS also holds pockets of territory elsewhere, notably in eastern parts of the central provinces of Homs and Hama, where it is the target of another Russian-backed offensive by government forces.

The jihadists are present in smaller numbers in the Yarmuk camp in south Damascus and a group allied with IS has a scattered presence in southern parts of Syria.

- IRAQ -

EUPHRATES VALLEY: IS controls a section of the Euphrates Valley downstream from the Syrian border, including the towns of Al-Qaim, Rawa and Anna.

This week, Iraqi forces backed by paramilitary units and coalition warplanes launched a push up the valley, attacking Anna and recapturing several villages.

After retaking Anna, Iraqi forces are expected to target Rawa and finally Al-Qaim, which is close to the Syrian border.

HAWIJA: Security forces and paramilitary units are also preparing an assault on the other remaining IS-held enclave in Iraq, centred on the town of Hawija.

The enclave, which was bypassed by government forces in their drive north to second city Mosul last year, lies to the west of the ethnically divided Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk and includes several other mainly Sunni Arab towns.

Preparations for the operation have been overshadowed by a bitter dispute between Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdish leaders over their plans to hold an independence referendum on Monday in areas including Kirkuk.

Iraqi security forces and paramilitary units on Tuesday seized a village in one of the last pockets of territory controlled by the Islamic State group in the vast western province of Anbar, bordering Syria.

"Our forces have taken the whole of Al-Rayhanna village, attacking from three directions, and have killed seven terrorists," an Iraqi colonel told AFP.

Some IS fighters had fled towards the town of Anna, "eight kilometres (five miles) to the west, which is our next objective", he said.

The Joint Operations Command coordinating the fight against IS in Iraq said infantry and armoured units backed by the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary alliance launched the assault at dawn to retake Al-Rayhanna and the nearby town of Anna.

The operation was supported by Iraqi army helicopters and warplanes from the US-led coalition battling IS in Iraq and Syria, a general in the area said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The head of Anna's municipal council, Abdel Karim al-Ani, confirmed Iraqi forces had taken control of Al-Rayhanna and raised the Iraqi flag on public buildings.

The colonel said coalition aircraft had destroyed a suicide car bomb driven by a jihadist who was trying to reach security forces to detonate the vehicle.

Anna, about 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of the border with Syria, is one of three towns in Anbar province still under IS control.

After retaking the town, Iraqi forces are expected to target Rawa to the northwest and finally Al-Qaim, which is close to the border with the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor.

Three years after IS took control of large parts of Syria and Iraq, Iraqi forces are pushing to retake all areas seized by the jihadists, scoring their biggest victory in July with the recapture of second city Mosul.

Iraq is preparing to launch an assault against another of the jihadists' remaining strongholds, the town of Hawija about 300 kilometres (185 miles) north of Baghdad.

IS is also under pressure in Syria, where a US-backed alliance of Kurds and Arabs is battling to retake the jihadists' de facto capital Raqa and Russian-backed regime forces are fighting for control of the city of Deir Ezzor.

Three dead in Iraq restaurant attack claimed by IS
Samarra, Iraq (AFP) Sept 19, 2017 - Two suicide bombers killed at least three people and wounded 34 Tuesday in an Iraqi restaurant frequented by militiamen battling the Islamic State group, security sources said, in an attack claimed by IS.

In a statement late Tuesday, IS claimed responsibility for the attack in the northern town of Hajaj, in Salaheddin province between the cities of Tikrit and Baiji.

The jihadist group gave a higher toll of 30 federal police killed and 45 wounded.

Interior ministry spokesman Saad Maan said earlier that "two attackers detonated their explosive belts in a restaurant in Hajaj, killing three people and wounding 34."

"A third assailant was shot dead by the security forces," Maan said in a statement.

IS said one of the two attackers was killed in enemy fire, while the other detonated his explosives belt.

A police lieutenant colonel said the restaurant was frequented by members of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation), a paramilitary force mainly composed of Iran-trained militias which has played a major role in the fight against IS.

The twin bombings came just five days after a gun and bomb attack on a restaurant and nearby checkpoint in the southern city of Nasiriyah killed 84 people.

That was the deadliest attack claimed by the jihadists since their defeat in second city Mosul in July.

Iraqi forces launch assault for last IS bastions in Anbar
Al-Sagra, Iraq (AFP) Sept 19, 2017
Iraqi security forces and paramilitary units launched a dawn assault Tuesday against one of the Islamic State group's last bastions in the vast western province of Anbar bordering Syria. The Joint Operations Command, which is coordinating Iraqi security forces battling IS, said an offensive had begun to retake the town of Anna and the nearby village of Al-Rayhanna. "Infantry units and ar ... read more

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