The capture of Rawa last week signaled the fall of the final IS stronghold in Iraq, putting a decisive end to the terror group’s “caliphate” aspirations. Liberation forces are now pushing into the desert.
Iraq launched an army operation to flush militants out of its border region with Syria, the military said on Thursday, as it pushes to entirely expel “Islamic State” (IS) from its lands.
The Iraqi army, federal police and the Shiite paramilitary group Hashed al-Shaabi have begun “clearing” a large strip of desert in the west of the country, General Abdelamir Yarallah said in a statement.
Extremists from IS — also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh — have mostly been pushed out of Iraq. But the terrorist group still controls parts of the sparsely-populated wastelands between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates.
“The objective behind the operation is to prevent remaining Daesh groups from melting into the desert region and using it as a base for future attacks,” said army colonel Salah Kareem.
In recent months Iraq has retaken large chunks of territory previously controlled by IS, leaving the Jihadist group on the verge of complete defeat.
In July, the Iraqi army and Shiite paramilitaries retook Mosul, the country’s second largest city. On Friday, the small town of Rawa, in the western Anbar province, became the final IS stronghold to fall.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said after the liberation of Rawa that IS had been defeated from a military perspective — but he would only declare victory after its militants were routed in the desert, too.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that Iran — a close ally of Iraq — had helped destroy a “tumour” created by the United States and its allies. Iranian Prime Minister Hassan Rouhani declared “victory” over IS.
Iran has has sent thousands of fighters to Iraq and Syria to battle IS and other groups.
In neighbouring Syria similar clear-up operations are underway to rout IS militants from the arid rural regions. Pro-government forces and US-backed Kurdish forces have already ousted the Jihadists from urban areas.