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Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Major battlefronts against IS in Syria and Iraq

AFP , Wednesday 20 Sep 2017
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The Islamic State (IS) militant group has lost swathes of territory in its self-declared caliphate in recent months, including its former Iraq hub Mosul and 90 percent of its onetime Syria bastion Raqa.

Here are the main battlefronts where IS is under attack in Syria and Iraq:

RAQA: Raqa was once the de facto Syrian capital of IS's self-declared caliphate, but the group has now lost 90 percent of the city to US-backed fighters.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, worked for months to encircle the city, which had become a byword for the worst of IS's atrocities during its years under Islamist militant rule.

In June, the SDF broke into the city for the first time and, with support from a US-led coalition, now controls 90 percent of it, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The battle initially moved quickly, but slowed when the SDF reached the more densely populated city centre.

Its advance has been assisted by heavy US-led air strikes that have reportedly killed hundreds of civilians.

Estimates of the number of civilians still in the city range from fewer than 10,000 to as many as 25,000.

DEIR EZZOR: IS's other main stronghold in Syria is the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, which borders IS-held territory in Iraq.

Two separate offensives are under way against the Islamist militants in the area -- one by the US-backed SDF, the other by Russian-backed government forces.

Regime troops advanced across the desert from the west to relieve two besieged garrisons in the city of Deir Ezzor, down the Euphrates Valley from Raqa.

The army now controls around 70 percent of the city and is battling to oust IS from the remainder, according to the Britain-based Observatory.

The SDF advanced from the north to assault IS on the east bank of the Euphrates, capturing more than 500 square kilometres (190 square miles) of territory, according to the US-led coalition.

On Monday, government forces crossed to the east bank of the river, where commanders said they came under fire from the SDF.

Moscow said the US-backed force was impeding the battle against IS, a charge dismissed by Washington.

OTHER POCKETS: IS also holds pockets of territory elsewhere, notably in eastern parts of the central provinces of Homs and Hama, where it is the target of another Russian-backed offensive by government forces.

The Islamist militants are present in smaller numbers in the Yarmuk camp in south Damascus and a group allied with IS has a scattered presence in southern parts of Syria.

EUPHRATES VALLEY: IS controls a section of the Euphrates Valley downstream from the Syrian border, including the towns of Al-Qaim, Rawa and Anna.

This week, Iraqi forces backed by paramilitary units and coalition warplanes launched a push up the valley, attacking Anna and recapturing several villages.

After retaking Anna, Iraqi forces are expected to target Rawa and finally Al-Qaim, which is close to the Syrian border.

HAWIJA: Security forces and paramilitary units are also preparing an assault on the other remaining IS-held enclave in Iraq, centred on the town of Hawija.

The enclave, which was bypassed by government forces in their drive north to second city Mosul last year, lies to the west of the ethnically divided Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk and includes several other mainly Sunni Arab towns.

Preparations for the operation have been overshadowed by a bitter dispute between Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdish leaders over their plans to hold an independence referendum on Monday in areas including Kirkuk.

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