BAGHDAD: The Islamic State group now controls less than seven percent of Iraq, down from the 40 percent it held nearly three years ago, a military spokesman said yesterday. “Daesh controlled 40 percent of Iraqi land” in 2014, Brigadier General Yahya Rasool told reporters, using an Arabic acronym for IS. “As of March 31 (this year), they only held 6.8 percent of Iraqi territory,” said Rasool, the spokesman of the Joint Operations Command coordinating the anti-jihadist effort.
Various members of the forces, Iraqi and foreign, battling the jihadists have disagreed in the past on control of territory figures but IS has been losing ground steadily over close to two years. The most brutal organization in modern jihad shocked the world when it took over Mosul, Iraq’s second city, in June 2014 and then swept across much of the country’s Sunni Arab heartland.
Its reach in Iraq peaked in August the same year when a second offensive saw it take over areas of northern Iraq that were home to various minorities and had been under the control of the autonomous Kurds. Iraqi forces with the backing of the US-led coalition-which has thousands of forces deployed in Iraq and carries out daily air strikes-launched a major offensive to retake Mosul in October 2016. They retook control of the eastern side of the city, which is divided by the Tigris river, in January and have since mid-February been battling die-hard jihadists holed up in their last west Mosul redoubts.
Coalition to stay
The full recapture of Mosul, the de facto capital of the “caliphate” IS supremo Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi publicly proclaimed in the city nearly three years ago, would effectively end any IS claim to be running a state. Speaking at the same press conference in Baghdad yesterday, the spokesman for the US-led coalition vowed that Iraq would not be abandoned after the recapture of Mosul. “Once that task is accomplished, the coalition will be here to support our Iraqi partners as they eliminate IS from every corner of Iraq,” Colonel John Dorrian said.
The coalition has come under criticism following the deaths last month in west Mosul of scores of civilians in an air strike it admitted may have been its own. “Every strike that we conduct, we conduct using precision-guided munitions. Every strike that we conduct is coordinated directly with the Iraqi security forces,” he said. “We are very careful. We never, ever target civilians,” Dorrian said. The IS group still controls the large towns of Hawijah and Tal Afar as well as remote areas along the border with Syria in western Iraq. It also holds the city of Raqa and other areas in neighboring Syria.- AFP