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Thousands evacuated as Iraqi forces advance against IS group

AFP , Thursday 10 Mar 2016
Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi's convoy tours the front line in their fight against Islamic State group militants in the Samarra desert, on the border between Anbar and Salahuddin provinces, Iraq. Iraqi forces are again trying to clear Islamic State group fighters from the sprawling deserts that stand between recent territorial gains in Anbar province and the IS-held city of Mosul to the north on Wednesday, March 9, 2016. (Photo: AP)
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Iraqi forces retook a town from the Islamic State militant group in Anbar province Thursday and evacuated 10,000 civilians as they advanced up the Euphrates valley, a security spokesman said.

"Counter-terrorism forces and army troops liberated the Zankura area in a swift military operation," Sabah al-Noman, spokesman of the elite Counter-Terrorism Service, told AFP.

"They evacuated 10,000 people who were transferred to a safe area," he said.

An army colonel in the region said they would be offered first aid and then taken to camps for displaced people.

Zankura lies on a bend in the Euphrates river northwest of Ramadi, capital of Anbar province that Iraqi forces brought under full control last month.

The rural area around 125 kilometres (80 miles) west of Baghdad is on the way to Hit, a town which Iraqi forces have declared as their next target.

Noman claimed 80 IS fighters were killed in the operation but gave no figure for casualties in government ranks.

"Our forces also arrested 56 Daesh (IS) members who had shaved their beards and were trying to blend in with the fleeing families," the spokesman said.

Noman said the Iraqi flag was raised on the highest building in Zankura.

The sprawling province of Anbar -- which borders Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia -- was at the heart of the "caliphate" that IS proclaimed in 2014.

The militant group still holds most of the province but the noose is tightening around some of its key bastions.

The city of Fallujah, 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Baghdad, is almost completely surrounded by a mix of Iraqi forces.

Federal forces are also pushing down from Salaheddin province towards Haditha, a city in western Anbar which IS never took but has attacked relentlessly since 2014.

The US-led coalition, which has played a significant part in enabling the advance of government troops across Anbar, reported four air strikes in the Ramadi area on Wednesday.

According to the International Organisation for Migration, 44 percent of the more than 3.3 million people displaced in Iraq since the beginning of 2014 are from Anbar.

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