Iraq retakes Tal Afar from IS
Iraq declared yesterday that its forces had retaken the northern city of Tal Afar and the surrounding region in another major victory over Islamic State group jihadists.
IS, which seized nearly a third of Iraq in 2014 in a stunning defeat for the army, now controls just 10 percent of the country, according to the US-led international coalition against the jihadists.
The fall of Tal Afar, located in the northern province of Nineveh, deprives IS of what was once a key supply hub between its territory in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.
After a 12-day battle by Iraqi forces backed by coalition air strikes and paramilitary fighters, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that Tal Afar had "regained its place in the national territory".
He vowed to liberate "every inch of Iraqi territory" from the group.
"We say to the criminals of IS: wherever you are, we're coming to liberate it and you have no choice but to die or surrender," Abadi said.
The full recapture of Nineveh province comes weeks after coalition-backed Iraqi forces ousted the jihadists from the provincial capital Mosul, three years after the jihadists declared a self-styled "caliphate" straddling Iraq and war-torn Syria.
IS has lost much of the territory it controlled in the two countries and thousands of its fighters have been killed since late 2014, when the coalition was set up to defeat the group.
But the jihadist group, which is also known as ISIS, continues to claim attacks in the Middle East and Europe.
Brigadier General Andrew A Croft, deputy commander of the coalition, told AFP that Iraqi forces had killed between 600 and 700 IS fighters during the battle for Tal Afar while around 100 more had surrendered.
IS fighters in Iraq now control only the town of Hawija around 300 kilometres north of Baghdad, as well as several areas in the vast western desert province of Anbar along the border with Syria.
Officials have said the capture of Tal Afar would make it even more difficult for the jihadists to transport fighters and weapons between Iraq and Syria.
IS has also suffered major losses in Syria, where US-backed fighters have retaken more than half of the group's de facto Syrian capital Raqa.
Iraqi authorities are now expected to launch a new offensive against IS in their stronghold of Hawija in Kirkuk province.
But the battle for Hawija is expected to be more complicated because of its location.
Oil-rich Kirkuk province is at the centre of a long dispute and a source of lingering tensions between the Iraqi federal government and the regional Kurdish authorities.