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Iraq Launches Offensive to End IS Terror in Tal Afar

Tal Afar and the surrounding area are among the last pockets of IS-held territory in Iraq, after victory was declared in Mosul, the country’s second-largest city
Capturing Tal Afar would be an important milestone for Iraqi security forces. Capturing Tal Afar would be an important milestone for Iraqi security forces.

Iraqi forces have launched a ground offensive to retake a key area held by the self-styled Islamic State in the northern part of the country, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said.

“You either surrender, or die”, Abadi said in a televised speech announcing the operation early on Sunday, Al Jazeera reported.

He was addressing IS terrorists and mercenaries who have been in control of the city since 2014.

Tal Afar and the surrounding area are among the last pockets of IS-held territory in Iraq, after victory was declared in Mosul, the country’s second-largest city.

There are between 1,400 and 1,600 IS fighters in the Tal Afar area, including many foreign fighters, according to Iraqi Brigadier General Yahia Rasool who spoke through an interpreter on Saturday.

“I don’t think it will be tougher than the battle of Mosul,” he told reporters.

Tal Afar is west of Mosul and about 150km east of the Syrian border, sitting along a major road that was a key IS supply route.

The town had a population of about 200,000 before it fell to IS in 2014. The UN estimates that between 10,000 to 40,000 people are left in Tal Afar and surrounding villages.

  ‘Prepare Yourself’

Hours before Abadi’s announcement, the Iraqi air force dropped leaflets over the city, telling the population to take precautions.

“Prepare yourself, the battle is imminent and the victory is coming,” they read.

Matthew Glanville, a military analyst who had formerly advised the Iraqi government, said IS has “no hope of winning this battle”.

“Their aim will be to draw out the battle as long as possible and inflict maximum casualties on the Iraqi government,” he said, adding that fighters may use improvised bombs and use civilians as hostages to slow the battle.

Retired US General Mark Kimmitt said that while retaking Tal Afar would be an “important milestone”, it would not mean final days for IS.

“We’re not looking at the final days of IS, either in Iraq or in Syria, or outside of those countries,” Kimmitt told Al Jazeera. “It still remains a very, very potent force, not only in the self-proclaimed caliphate, but we continue to see IS-inspired attacks in places such as Barcelona and elsewhere.”

Thousands of Iraqis have fled to Iraq’s Kurdish region as preparations of the offensive continued.

The Norwegian Refugee Council said on Saturday that refugees near the northern city of Tal Afar were faced with harsh conditions, and were stopped by authorities in east of Mosul and Kurdish areas as they tried to flee the fighting.

“It’s very hard for them to move through,” Melany Markham, a spokesman of the humanitarian group, told Al Jazeera, adding that one transit site was already at full capacity, and could not take more refugees.

She said that temperatures in the height of summer of between 45 and 50 degrees Celsius make journeys even more challenging.

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