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TERROR WARS
Major battlefronts against IS in Iraq and Syria
by Staff Writers
Beirut (AFP) Oct 5, 2017


The Islamic State group in Iraq: key dates
Baghdad (AFP) Oct 5, 2017 - Iraqi forces on Thursday seized the northern town of Hawija, driving the Islamic State group from one of its last two pockets of territory in the country.

Here are some key dates in the history of IS in Iraq:

- Jihadist breakthrough -

January 4, 2014: Iraq loses its first key town since the US-led invasion of 2003, as fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and allies capture Fallujah and parts of Ramadi, west of Baghdad.

The vast Anbar province that surrounds the two towns is predominantly Sunni Arab and fiercely resisted US troops when they occupied Iraq.

- Mosul captured -

June 10, 2014: ISIL launches a lightning offensive in northwestern Iraq, seizing second city Mosul and Sunni Arab areas bordering the autonomous Kurdistan region. Tens of thousands of Christians and Yazidis flee.

- 'Caliphate' proclaimed -

June 29, 2014: ISIL declares a "caliphate" in territories it holds in Iraq and Syria, rebranding itself the Islamic State and declaring its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi "caliph".

- US-led coalition -

August 8, 2014: US warplanes strike IS positions in northern Iraq in response to an appeal from the Iraqi government.

September 23: The United States and Arab allies launch air strikes on IS in Syria after an international coalition is formed to defeat the group.

- Early IS losses in Iraq -

March 31, 2015: Iraq announces the "liberation" of Tikrit, 160 kilometres (100 miles) north of Baghdad, after nearly 10 months under IS rule.

February 9, 2016: Anbar provincial capital Ramadi is recaptured from the jihadists.

June 26: Iraqi forces retake Fallujah after two and a half years outside government control.

- The battle for Mosul -

October 17, 2016: Around 30,000 Iraqi soldiers, police and special forces members, backed by US-led air support, launch a vast operation to retake Mosul.

Three months, later they retake the city's east and turn their attention to the west.

July 9: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declares victory in Mosul, capping nine months of fighting.

- The battle for Tal Afar -

August 20, 2017: Iraq announces the start of an assault on Tal Afar, 70 kilometres (40 miles) west of Mosul.

August 31: Abadi's office says Tal Afar and the surrounding area are fully retaken, declaring that "the province of Nineveh is now entirely in the hands of our forces".

The battle lasted 12 days and Tal Afar's recapture deprived IS of what was once a key supply hub between its territory in Iraq and Syria.

- The battle for Hawija -

September 1: Iraq announces plans to retake IS's last two enclaves in the country, a pocket around the insurgent bastion of Hawija and a stretch of the Euphrates Valley near the border with Syria.

September 19: Iraqi forces launch a drive up the Euphrates towards the IS-held town of Anna, Rawa and Al-Qaim.

September 21: Iraqi forces and paramilitary units launch a dawn assault on the besieged IS-held pocket around Hawija.

October 5: Abadi says his forces have retaken the whole Hawija enclave. "All that remains is the strip on the border with Syria," he tells a news conference in Paris.

The Islamic State group has lost swathes of territory in its self-declared "caliphate" in recent months, including its emblematic Iraq stronghold Mosul and most of its Syrian bastion Raqa.

On Thursday, Iraqi forces recaptured the northern town of Hawija, the centre of one of IS's last two remaining enclaves in the country.

The jihadists are also facing parallel Russian- and US-backed offensives in Syria. Here are the main battlefronts:

- IRAQ -

HAWIJA: On Thursday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the recapture of the northern town of Hawija, the centre of one of the jihadists' last two remaining enclaves in the country.

"Only the outskirts remain to be recaptured," he said.

The government launched the offensive against the enclave on September 21 and swiftly retook several neighbouring Sunni Arab towns.

The pocket was bypassed by government troops in their push north to Mosul which culminated in the second city's recapture in July.

Hawija had been a bastion of insurgency since the early months after the US-led invasion of 2003 and earned the nickname of "Kandahar in Iraq" from coalition troops for the ferocious resistance it put up similar to that in the Taliban militia's bastion in Afghanistan.

EUPHRATES VALLEY: IS controls one other pocket of territory in Iraq, a stretch of the Euphrates Valley near the border with Syria.

On September 19, Iraqi forces backed by paramilitary units and coalition warplanes launched a push up the valley.

After retaking the town of Anna last week, they are expected to target Rawa and finally Al-Qaim, which is close to the Syrian border and IS-held territory beyond.

- SYRIA -

RAQA: The city was once the de facto Syrian capital of IS's self-declared "caliphate".

But the jihadists are now breathing their "last gasps" in a pocket of the city, a senior commander of the US-led coalition against IS told AFP last week.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, IS has lost around 90 percent of the city to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters worked for months to encircle Raqa, 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 but the battle slowed down when they 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.

The United Nations estimates that up to 15,000 civilians could remain in parts of Raqa, facing "incredibly difficult conditions".

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 there -- one by the SDF, the other by government forces supported by Russia.

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 75 percent of the city and is battling to oust IS from the remainder, said the Observatory.

IS hit back last week with attacks on government forces around Deir Ezzor and on their supply lines through the desert, killing dozens of troops and militiamen.

SDF fighters meanwhile have captured more than 500 square kilometres (190 square miles) of territory in northeastern parts of the province, according to the US-led coalition.

They advanced from the north to attack IS on the east bank of the Euphrates.

IS also holds dwindling pockets of territory elsewhere. On Wednesday, Russian-backed government troops pushed it out of its last foothold in Hama province. But it still has a presence in neighbouring Homs province, where it launched a counterattack on the town of Al-Qaryatain on Sunday.

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.

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