Iraqi forces have cleared out fighters from the "Islamic State" from their last stronghold in the country. IS now holds just a narrow slither in the country's west.
US-backed Iraqi forces recaptured the town of Hawija on Thursday, forcing Islamic State (IS) fighters out of their last stronghold, Iraq's prime minister announced.
The recapture now means that the only IS territory in Iraq is a narrow strip along the Syrian border.
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Troops, police and paramilitary forces "liberated the whole of the center of Hawija and are continuing their advance," operation commander Lieutenant General Abdel Amir Yarallah said in a statement.
The offensive was led by Iraqi government troops and Iranian-trained and armed Shi'ite paramilitary groups known as Popular Mobilisation.
The United Nations estimated that 12,500 people had fled the town since the launch of the offensive last month. It said on Tuesday there could have been as many as 78,000 people left in the town.
Where did it come from?
The "Islamic State" (IS) — also known as ISIL, ISIS and Daesh — is an al-Qaida splinter group with a militant Sunni Islamist ideology. It emerged in the aftermath of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Their goal is to create a worldwide "caliphate." It gained worldwide notoriety in 2014 after a blitzkrieg military campaign that resulted in the capture of Mosul.
Where does it operate?
IS is believed to be operational in more than a dozen countries across the world. It controls territories in Iraq and Syria. However, the group has lost much of the territory it controlled in Iraq and Syria at the height of its expansion in 2014.
Who is fighting back?
The US leads an international coalition of more than 50 countries, including several Arab nations. Russia, Iran and its Lebanese Shiite ally Hezbollah, which all support the Syrian government, also fight IS. Regional forces such as the Kurdish peshmerga (above) and US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters, fight IS on the ground. The Iraqi army and militia have pushed IS from large parts of the country.
How does it fund itself?
One of IS' main sources of income has been oil and gas. At one point, it controlled an estimated one-third of Syria's oil production. However, US-led airstrikes deliberately targeted oil resources and the Syrian government as well as US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters have retaken most oil wells. Other means of income include taxes, ransom, selling looted antiquities and extortion.
Where does it carry out attacks?
IS has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist attacks across the globe. The militant group has targeted capitals across the EU, including Berlin, Brussels and Paris. IS leaders have encouraged so-called "lone wolf" attacks, whereby individuals who support IS carry out terrorist acts without the direct involvement of the group.
What other tactics does it use?
The group uses various tactics to expand its power. IS fighters have looted and destroyed historical artifacts in Syria and Iraq in an attempt at "cultural cleansing." The group has also enslaved thousands of women from religious minority groups, including Yazidis. IS also uses a sophisticated social network to distribute propaganda and recruit sympathizers.
How has it impacted the region?
IS has further exacerbated the ongoing Syrian conflict. Millions of Syrians and Iraqis have fled their homes, many traveling to Europe in pursuit of refuge. Although it has lost all of its strongholds, the militant group has left extraordinary destruction in its wake. Areas affected by the militant group's rule will likely take years to rebuild.
Hawija, 230 kilometres (140 miles) north of Baghdad, had remained an insurgent bastion since soon after the US-led invasion of 2003. It was labeled "Kandahar in Iraq" for its similarities to the Taliban militia's citadel in Afghanistan.
Journalists on the ground shared images of dozens of IS fighters surrendering.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi confirmed the recapture after talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris. "Only the outskirts remain to be recaptured," he said.
"This victory is not just a victory for the Iraqis, but for the whole world."
He his forces would now focus on the border zone with Syria in their fight against IS.
The Sunni Arab town of Hawaji was complicated to take given its hostility to both to the Shiite-led government in Baghdad and to the neighboring Kurds. It comes under the Kirkuk governorate, which is disputed between Baghdad and the northern Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region.
aw/rt (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)