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Iraq forces recapture Tal Afar centre, citadel from IS


Fighters of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation units) advance in the eastern part of the town of Tal Afar, west of Mosul, after the Iraqi government announced the launch of the operation to retake it from Islamic State (IS) group control, on August 25, 2017. AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP

Iraqi forces battling to drive the Islamic State group from its Tal Afar bastion said Saturday they had recaptured the city centre and raised the country’s flag atop its Ottoman-era citadel.

“Units of the Counter-Terrorism Service liberated the Citadel and Basatin districts and raised the Iraqi flag on top of the citadel,” operation commander General Abdulamir Yarallah said in a statement.

The CTS and federal police units had converged on the city centre from the south and west, said General Yarallah. Clashes were ongoing on the northern outskirts and Iraqi forces were dealing with the final pockets of resistance inside the city, he added.

Saturday’s advance puts Iraqi forces on the verge of recapturing Tal Afar only six days after they launched an offensive to take back one of the last IS strongholds in the country.

It follows weeks of Iraqi and US-led coalition air strikes.Tal Afar is located 70 kilometres (40 miles) west of Mosul, where the jihadist group declared its “caliphate” in 2014 before being ousted from the city in July.

Iraqi forces on Saturday also seized three northern districts of Tal Afar and the Al-Rabia neighbourhood west of the citadel, a day after taking the Al-Talia district to the south.

Tal Afar, which had 200,000 residents until IS captured it in a 2014 offensive, is on a strategic road that linked IS-held territories in Syria with Mosul. Once Tal Afar is retaken, Baghdad is expected to launch a new offensive on Hawija, 300 kilometres north of Baghdad.

IS also present in the vast western province of Anbar, where it controls several zones along the Syrian border with war-ravaged Syria, including the Al-Qaim area. The jihadist group has lost much of the territory it controlled and thousands of its fighters have been killed.

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