Iraq forces recapture Tal Afar centre, citadel from IS


Iraqi government forces broke through Islamic State lines inside Tal Afar on Friday, less than a week after start of assault

Fighters of the Hashed al-Shaabi during their advance in the eastern part of the town of Tal Afar on 25 August (AFP)
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Last update: 
Sunday 27 August 2017 22:49 UTC

Iraqi forces battling to drive the Islamic State (IS) 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 IS 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 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 militant group has lost much of the territory it controlled and thousands of its fighters have been killed.

French minister visits

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defence Minister Florence Parly, who arrived in the Iraqi capital on Friday evening, are scheduled to meet Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Speaking on the plane to Baghdad, Le Drian said Iraq faced the dual challenge of "a war that is coming to an end and the beginning of the stabilisation and reconstruction of the country".

The ministers will also meet Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani in Erbil, where they are to echo calls by Pentagon chief Jim Mattis for the postponement of next month's independence referendum.

France is a key member of a coalition backing Iraqi forces in their campaign to retake vast tracts of Iraq that the militants grabbed in a 2014 offensive.

French forces have carried out air and artillery strikes in support of Iraqi operations.

"As long as our common enemy has not been eradicated, France will continue to take part" in the campaign, Parly said.