Raids on ISIS clear the way to Mosul, Iraqi official says

Reuters , Friday 8 Jan 2016

Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament Salim al-Jabouri speaks during an interview with Reuters in Baghdad, January 7, 2016 (Photo: Reuters)

Special-forces raids on an Islamic State (ISIS) stronghold in northern Iraq are under way before a planned offensive to retake Mosul, the largest centre under the group's control, Iraq's parliamentary speaker said.

Several attacks behind ISIS lines around Hawija, 210 kilometres (130 miles) north of Baghdad, were carried out in recent weeks, Salim al-Jabouri told Reuters on Thursday.

Dubai-based al-Hadath and Iraqi media have reported at least half a dozen raids since late December, led by U.S. special forces.

The U.S. said last month it was deploying a new force of around 100 special operations troops to Iraq to conduct raids against ISIS  there and in neighbouring Syria, without providing details.

But U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the international coalition bombing ISIS, this week rejected the media reports, calling them "Iranian disinformation" aimed at distracting from the Iraqi military's "success" against ISIS elsewhere.

He told Reuters coalition forces in Iraq have not operated on the ground since October, when U.S. special forces rescued 69 Iraqis in a raid in Hawija that killed one U.S. commando .

Special operations in Hawija "have been repeated a second and third time ... These operations are bearing fruit," said Jabouri, Iraq's senior Sunni Arab official. "They eliminate the terrorists and free innocents, and for us it represents a positive development."

Jabouri said the raids were carried out "from time to time" and "supported by Iraqi forces" but did not specify whether the United States played a role or how many had occurred.

The raids are "not direct ground attacks; they are operations targeting the dens of Daesh in important and sensitive areas," Jabouri said, using an Arabic acronym for the group, which is also known as ISIS and ISIS.

He said they were not enough to get rid of ISIS but "are dealing them strong blows".

He said the raids were related to Baghdad's goal of retaking Mosul, the city 400 km (250 miles) north of Baghdad where ISIS declared its intention to establish a caliphate stretching across the border with Syria.

Strategically located east of the road from Baghdad to Mosul and near the Kurdish-held oil region of Kirkuk, Hawija became an ISIS stronghold when the ultra-hardline Sunni militants swept across northern and western Iraq in 2014.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said has vowed to retake Mosul, this year as a "fatal and final blow" to ISIS militants in Iraq.

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