By Agence France-Presse
Iraqi forces announced Saturday the ouster of Islamic State group jihadists from central Tal Afar and its historic citadel, leaving them poised to fully recapture one of the last IS urban strongholds in the country.
The advance, less than a week into an assault on the strategic city, comes after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory in July over the jihadists in Iraq’s second city Mosul, where IS declared its “caliphate” in 2014.
It came on the day of a visit to Baghdad by the French foreign and defense ministers during which a loan of 430 million euros ($512 million) was announced to help the Iraqi economy in the face of low oil prices and the cost of battling the jihadists.
Iraqi forces now hold “94 percent of the city, 27 out of 29” districts including the centre and citadel, according to the Joint Operations Command (JOC) which coordinates the anti-IS operation in Iraq.
On Saturday, units also battled IS around Al-Ayadieh, 15 kilometers (10 miles) north of Tal Afar and strategically located on the road between the city and the Syrian border, operation commander General Abdulamir Yarallah said.
In the whole Tal Afar region, “1,155 square kilometers of 1,655 square kilometers, or 70 percent of the area, have been taken” the JOC said.
Columns of smoke could be seen rising over the city after the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary coalition fighting alongside government troops seized the Al-Khadra and Al-Jazeera districts.
Abbas Radhi, a Hashed al-Shaabi fighter, said IS had resisted the advance mostly with sniper fire.
“There are also booby-trapped cars, mortars. But they’ve been defeated, God willing,” he said.
Government troops and units of the Hashed al-Shaabi, backed by a US-led coalition against IS, launched the assault last Sunday after weeks of coalition and Iraqi air strikes.
Tal Afar sits on a strategic route between IS-controlled territories in Syria and Mosul, 70 kilometres (40 miles) further east.
Progress in Tal Afar has been far more rapid than in Mosul, which fell to Iraqi forces only after a gruelling nine-month battle.
Officials have said they hope to announce victory in Tal Afar by Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holiday set to start in Iraq on September 2.