Iraqi forces have captured the town of Hawija and the encompassing territory from ISIS, however some battling still seethed in a pocket toward the north and east of the town where the militants were surrounded, the military said on Thursday.
Hawija, where tens of thousands of civilians live, has been under the militant group's control since 2014.
With the capture of Hawija, the militants’ last stronghold in northern Iraq, ISIS will be left controlling only a stretch of land along the border with Syria.
On Wednesday, the Iraqi army said it had killed 196 ISIS militants and recaptured 98 villages around Hawija, located near the Kurdish-held oil city of Kirkuk.
“The army’s 9th armored division, the Federal Police, the Emergency Response division and (..) Popular Mobilization liberated Hawija,” said a statement from the joint operations commander, Lieutenant-General Abdul Ameer Rasheed Yarallah.
The offensive on Hawija was carried out by US-backed Iraqi government troops and Shi‘ite paramilitary groups known as Popular Mobilization.
The capture of Hawija brings them into direct contact with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters who control Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic region claimed by both Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Kirkuk shaped up as a flashpoint last month when the KRG included the city in a referendum on Kurdish independence in northern Iraq.
Iraq launched its offensive on Sept. 21 to dislodge ISIS from the Hawija area, where up to 78,000 people were estimated to be trapped, according to the United Nations.
The UN said on Tuesday that an estimated 12,500 people had fled Hawija since the launch of the offensive to retake the town and surrounding areas last month.
It said humanitarian agencies have set up checkpoints, camps and emergency sites capable of receiving more than 70,000 people who could flee.
The militants continue to control the border town of al-Qaim and the region surrounding it. They also hold parts of the Syrian side of the border, but the area under their control is shrinking as they retreat in the face of hostile forces.
ISIS’ cross-border “caliphate” effectively collapsed in July, when US-backed Iraqi forces captured Mosul, the group’s de facto capital in Iraq, in a grueling battle which lasted nine months.
The militants’ leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who declared the caliphate from Mosul in mid-2014, released an audio recording last week that indicated he was alive, after several reports he had been killed.
He called on his followers to keep up the fight despite the setbacks.