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Iraqi Forces Enter al-Qaim in ‘Last Big Fight’ against ISIS

Iraqi Forces Enter al-Qaim in ‘Last Big Fight’ against ISIS

Friday, 3 November, 2017 - 10:00
Iraqi troops storm a building in the town of Anna during the first phase of their drive up the Euphrates valley against ISIS on September 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/MOADH AL-DULAIMI)

Iraqi forces on Friday entered Al-Qaim, the main town in ISIS’ last bastion in the country, military commanders said.

Backed by Iraqi and US-led coalition air strikes, Iraqi forces unleashed early Friday morning a barrage of artillery fire against militant positions inside the town.

Troops from the army and the elite Counter Terrorism Service "have started the assault on the center of Al-Qaim," Staff Major General Noman Abed al-Zobai, the commander of the 7th Division, told AFP from the scene.

Shortly afterwards, another officer said the town's Gaza district had fallen from terrorist hands.

Iraqi forces launched the operation last week to seize Al-Qaim and its surroundings, a pocket of barren desert along the Euphrates river near the border with Syria.

Home to around 150,000 people, it is one of the last remaining territories in the country still held by ISIS militants after rampaging across Iraq and Syria in 2014.

Welcoming the offensive, the US-led coalition has said around 1,500 terrorists are estimated to remain in the area, which it expects to be the scene of the "last big fight" against the extremist group in Iraq.

“ISIS members have to choose between death and surrender," Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement announcing the offensive last week.

ISIS is also under pressure from separate offensives by Syrian regime and US-backed forces in the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor that lies on the other side of the border.

Syrian regime forces said Friday they have liberated the eastern city of Deir Ezzor from ISIS.

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