Iraqi forces retake last ISIS-held town

BAGHDAD • Iraqi forces yesterday captured the border town of Rawa, the last remaining town under ISIS control, signalling the collapse of the group's self-proclaimed caliphate.

Rawa borders Syria, whose army seized the last substantial town on the border with Iraq, Albu Kamal.

Rawa's capture marks the end of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's (ISIS) era of territorial rule over a so-called caliphate that it proclaimed in 2014 across vast swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Iraqi forces "liberated Rawa entirely, and raised the Iraqi flag over its buildings", Lieutenant-General Abdul Ameer Rasheed Yarallah said in a statement from the Joint Operations Command.

Syria's army has also declared victory against ISIS, but last week militants re-infiltrated Albu Kamal and are still fighting there, as well as in some villages and desert areas nearby.

All the forces fighting ISIS in both countries expect a new phase of guerilla warfare, a tactic the militants have already shown themselves capable of.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi congratulated the armed forces and people, saying Rawa was retaken in record time. "Liberation of Rawa district in mere hours reflects the great strength and power of our heroic armed forces and the successful planning for battles," he said in a statement.

A video issued by the military showed Iraqi forces sending a message to Rawa's residents via radio which said, "Daesh has ended for good, and now the age of Iraq begins", referring to the Sunni militant group by an Arabic acronym.

Another showed a convoy of military vehicles sporting Iraqi flags and blasting out the national anthem. State television played patriotic songs and aired footage of troops in Rawa.

"With the liberation of Rawa, we can say all the areas in which Daesh is present have been liberated," a military spokesman said. Iraqi forces will now focus on routing the militants who fled into the desert, and exert control over Iraq's borders, the spokesman said.

The leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is believed to be hiding in the stretch of desert which runs along the border of both countries.

Driven this year from its two de facto capitals - Iraq's Mosul and Syria's Raqqa - ISIS has been progressively squeezed into an ever-shrinking pocket of desert, straddling the frontier between the two countries, by enemies that include most regional states and global powers.

In Iraq, ISIS faced the army and the Shi'ite paramilitary groups, backed both by the US-led international coalition and by Iran. Iraq has been carrying out its final campaign to crush the ISIS caliphate, while also mounting an offensive in the north against the Kurds.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2017, with the headline 'Iraqi forces retake last ISIS-held town'. Print Edition | Subscribe