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Iraq says Tal Afar ‘fully liberated’ from Islamic State

  • FILE- In this Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017 file photo, an Iraqi policeman checks the documents of displaced civilians at a collection point west of Mosul on the outskirts of Tal Afar, Iraq. Iraq's prime minister declared the town of Tal Afar "fully liberated" from the Islamic State group after a nearly two-week operation. Haider al-Abadi said Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, that Iraqi troops "eliminated and smashed Daesh terrorists" in al-Ayadia district, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) northwest of Tal Afar, where the militants fled last week. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for IS. (AP Photo/Balint Szlanko, File) Balint Szlanko

  • FILE - In this Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017 file photo, displaced Iraqi women and children sit on the ground at a collection point west of Mosul on the outskirts of Tal Afar, Iraq. Iraq's prime minister declared the town of Tal Afar "fully liberated" from the Islamic State group after a nearly two-week operation. Haider al-Abadi said Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, that Iraqi troops "eliminated and smashed Daesh terrorists" in al-Ayadia district, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) northwest of Tal Afar, where the militants fled last week. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for IS. (AP Photo/Balint Szlanko, File) Balint Szlanko



Associated Press
Thursday, August 31, 2017

The northern town of Tal Afar has been “fully liberated” from the Islamic State group, Iraq’s prime minister said Thursday, further shrinking the territory controlled by the extremists who overran nearly a third of the country three years ago.

The militants have suffered a series of major defeats in recent months, including the loss of Mosul, the second-largest city, in July.

Iraqi troops “eliminated and smashed” the militant group in al-Ayadia district, northwest of Tal Afar, where they had fled last week, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement.

With the fall of Tal Afar, all of Ninevah province is “in the hands of our brave troops,” he said.

The ethnically mixed province was the first to fall to the Islamic State when its militants swept across large parts of Iraq and Syria in the summer of 2014.

The group still controls a large area of eastern Syria, along the border with Iraq, as well as parts of Raqqa, the capital of the group’s self-styled caliphate, where it is battling U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian forces.

Iraqi officials often declare areas liberated before the fighting has completely ended, and the militants have been known to carry out surprise counterattacks. The Tal Afar operation began nearly two weeks ago.

The announcement on Tal Afar came a day after Jordan and Iraq reopened their only border crossing after a two-year closure. They were able to reopen it after Iraqi forces drove ISIS from most of the vast Anbar province in western Iraq.

Al-Abadi vowed to retake all areas still under ISIS control. In Iraq, they are now largely confined to the northern town of Hawija and a handful of others – Qaim, Rawa and Ana – near the Syrian border.

In a separate statement, the Iraqi military confirmed that their next target is Hawija, but did not elaborate.

Iraqi state TV interrupted its regular programs and played national songs, showing a live feed from Tal Afar, where soldiers danced and celebrated the victory.

In his announcement, al-Abadi alluded to an agreement brokered by Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group that allowed hundreds of ISIS fighters to evacuate the Lebanon-Syria border and head toward ISIS-held territory in eastern Syria, near Iraq.

Iraq and the U.S.-led coalition criticized the deal, saying the extremists should be killed on the battlefield and not be allowed to regroup elsewhere.

Al-Abadi said Iraqi forces “didn’t allow them to flee” al-Ayadia.

“That’s our firm stance against those criminals,” he added.

The coalition praised what it called a “stunning victory,” but it warned that “dangerous work remains to completely remove explosive devices, identify ISIS fighters in hiding and eliminate any remaining ISIS holdouts.”