Fresh Losses in Syria, Iraq Push IS to the Brink

Iraqi forces and members of the Hashed al-Shaabi advance towards the city of al-Qaim, in western Anbar province, as they fight against remnant pockets of IS.Iraqi forces and members of the Hashed al-Shaabi advance towards the city of al-Qaim, in western Anbar province, as they fight against remnant pockets of IS.

Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate was all but reduced on Friday to a pair of border towns at the Iraq-Syria frontier, where thousands of fighters were believed to be holding out after losing nearly all other territory in both countries.

Forces in Syria and Iraq backed by regional states and global powers now appear on the cusp of victory over the group, which proclaimed its authority over all Muslims in 2014 when it held about a third of both countries and ruled over millions, Reuters reported.

On the Syrian side, the Syrian government declared victory over the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor on Friday, a big blow to the militants as their last stronghold in Syria crumbles.

Deir al-Zor, on the west bank of the Euphrates River, is the largest and most important city in eastern Syria, and is the center of the country’s oil production.

“The armed forces, in cooperation with allied forces, liberated the city of Deir al-Zor completely from the clutches of the Daesh terrorist organization,” the military source said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

The army, backed by Russian bombers, is advancing toward the last significant town held by IS in Syria, Albu Kamal, which is also located on the western bank of the Euphrates.

A rival offensive by Kurdish and Arab militias supported by a US-led coalition with air strikes and special forces, is pressing IS on the eastern bank.

IS had for years besieged a government enclave in Deir al-Zor until an army advance relieved it in early September, starting a battle for militant-held parts of the city.

The army captured al-Hamidiya, Sheikh Yassin, al-Ardhi and al-Rashidia districts in recent attacks and the al-Hawiqa district was the last to be held by the militants, a military media unit run by the army’s ally Hezbollah reported.

Engineering units were searching streets and buildings in those districts for mines and booby traps left by IS, the military source said.

The Syrian army said on Friday it would continue to wage war against IS and “other terrorist groups” until security and stability are restored to all Syrian territory.

  Final Hit in Iraq

Meanwhile, Iraqi forces entered al-Qaim, one of the last remaining territories in the country still held by IS militants, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command said on Friday.

Units from the Iraqi army, counterterrorism services, Sunni tribal and Popular Mobilization forces (PMF) are participating in an offensive to recapture al-Qaim and Rawa, two towns near the border with Syria.

Iraq’s security forces retook a border crossing with Syria from the militants, hours after entering al-Qaim, according to the joint operations command.

The road runs through al-Qaim in Iraq and Albu-Kamal in Syria, two towns which are very close to each other on opposite sides of the border in the last important territorial stronghold of IS.

Operations to clear the militants from their final strongholds in Iraq have continued, despite a concurrent military advance on Kurdish-held territory in the north.

Iraq’s central government launched an offensive on Oct. 16 to seize disputed territories, claimed by both Baghdad and the Kurds, in retaliation for a referendum on Kurdish independence held on Sept. 25.

In a lightning strike, central government forces swiftly recaptured large areas, including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, from the Kurds, who had seized these areas when Islamic State swept across northern Iraq in 2014.

On Thursday, Iraqi forces threatened to resume military operations against the Kurds, accusing them of delaying the handover of control of borders and taking advantage of negotiations to bolster their defenses.


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