Iraq launches offensive to retake IS last key bastion

(MENAFN- Gulf Times) Iraqi forces yesterday started an offensive to expel the Islamic State from the extremist militia's last key stronghold in the country, an army officer said.
Army troops and tribal fighters are participating in the operation aimed at 'liberating the western town of Rawa from Islamic State militants, Colonel Ahmed al-Delmi said.
'The military forces are determined to regain the town in record time and drive terrorists from it, he said.
Rawa is in Iraq's western province of Anbar where Islamic State established a foothold in Iraq in early 2014.
The attack comes a day after Iraq announced retaking control of the western town of Al-Qaim near the Syrian border in a hard blow to the radical group.
Al-Qaim was strategically important for Islamic State because it linked Iraq across the border to areas under the extremist group's control in war-torn Syria.
Shia militias aligned with the Iraqi government yesterday clashed with Islamic State in a border area between Syria and Iraq, where the radical group has suffered military setbacks over the past few days, a monitoring group reported.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Iraq's Popular Mobilisation paramilitaries were engaged in fierce clashes with Islamic State extremists on the outskirts of Syria's eastern province of Deir al-Zour.
Islamic State insurgents carried out counter-attacks against the Iraqi militiamen and forced them to retreat from the area, the watchdog added without reporting casualties.
On Friday, Syria announced victory over Islamic State in Deir al-Zour, the capital city of the province of the same name.
The Iraqi advance prompted Islamic State operatives to flee from Al-Qaim into the border town of Albu Kamal, the extremist group's last major foothold on Syrian territory, the Observatory reported.
Islamic State seized Albu Kamal in the oil-rich province of Deir al-Zour in 2014.
But Jaafar Hussaini, a spokesman for the Kataib Hezbollah militia, one of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) fighting Islamic State will also take on the group in in Albu Kamal.
Hussaini said the Iraqi resistance forces would take part in the battle against Islamic State in Albu Kamal because it borders Iraq.
'Albu Kamal is in missile range of the Iraqi forces in Al-Qaim. The presence of our forces on the border with Albu Kamal means there will be a new front in the confrontation with Daesh, Hussaini said using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
In recent weeks, Syrian forces have launched a Russia-backed campaign to expel Islamic State from Al-Bu Kamal.
The Syrian forces are about 30km from the town, the Observatory said.
The hardline militia still controls less than 40% of Deir al-Zour province, according to the monitor.
Islamic State has lost more than 96% of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and Syria, according to a US-led coalition fighting the extremist group.
Last month, Syrian Kurd-led forces, allied with the US, captured Raqqa, once the hub of Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria.


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