Iraq: US ends ground operations against 'Islamic State'

The US-led coalition battling "Islamic State" in Iraq has closed its land forces command headquarters. The move signals the end of major combat operations, but some will remain for "training" missions with Iraqi troops.

In a major milestone on Monday, the US-led coalition fighting the militant "Islamic State" (IS) group announced the end of ground operations in Iraq.

According to a statement from the US Department of Defense, the coalition's Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command "was deactivated today at a ceremony in Baghdad."

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Brigadier General Yahya Rasool Abdullah, a spokesman for the Iraqi forces, acknowledged the coalition's contributions to fighting IS.

"The commitment and professionalism of all the men and women from all the coalition nations has been of the highest order, and Iraq is immensely grateful for their sacrifice and dedication in this task," he said in a statement.

In December, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over the militants, five months after Iraqi forces recaptured the city of Mosul.

IS fighters continue to carry out bomb attacks and assassinations in regions of Iraq and remain active in Syria.

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Transformation to training mission

The statement noted that the move signifies the coalition's "changing composition and responsibilities" with regard to Iraqi forces.

The US-led coalition will now shift from supporting and taking part in combat missions to focusing on "the training and development of self-sufficient Iraqi security-related capabilities."

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The US and its partners are hoping to avoid repeating the mistakes of its 2011 withdrawal from Iraq. The subsequent security vacuum contributed to the rise of IS in the country.

"The lesson learned from Iraq [is that] it is dangerous to leave too early because we may be forced back into combat operations," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in February.

The coalition, which operates in Syria as well, has come under fire for civilian deaths in its campaign against IS.

Last Thursday, the coalition acknowledged an additional 28 civilian deaths in Syria and Iraq, bringing the total of non-fighters killed to 883.

What is the 'Islamic State'?

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.

What is the 'Islamic State'?

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.

What is the 'Islamic State'?

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.

What is the 'Islamic State'?

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.

What is the 'Islamic State'?

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 is the 'Islamic State'?

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.

What is the 'Islamic State'?

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.

rs/cmk (AFP, Reuters)

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