Iraqi forces recapture Islamic State bastion Hawija

#IraqatWar

The Iraqi army and volunteer forces said they were 'continuing their advance' into the Islamic State stronghold

Iraqi forces and fighters from the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation units) advance towards the Islamic State (IS) group's stronghold of Hawija (AFP)
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Thursday 5 October 2017 9:08 UTC
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Iraqi forces have captured the town of Hawija and the surrounding area from Islamic State, though some fighting still raged in a pocket to the north and east of the town where the militants were surrounded, the military said on Thursday.

Troops, police and paramilitaries "liberated the whole of the centre of Hawija and are continuing their advance," the operation's commander, Lieutenant General Abdel Amir Yarallah, said.

Government and allied forces backed by a US-led coalition launched an offensive last month to oust IS from Hawija, a longtime insurgent bastion.

The town is among the final holdouts from the territory seized by the militants in 2014 and its recapture would leave only a handful of remote outposts in IS hands.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was due to meet French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris later on Thursday for talks on the campaign against IS, which is backed by a US-led coalition including France.

The United Nations said on Tuesday that an estimated 12,500 people had fled Hawija since the launch of the offensive to retake the town and surrounding areas last month.

The UN's humanitarian affairs office said the number of people still in the town was unknown but could be as high as 78,000.

It said humanitarian agencies have set up checkpoints, camps and emergency sites capable of receiving more than 70,000 people who could flee.

Longtime insurgent bastion

Hawija, 230km north of Baghdad, is one of just two significant areas of Iraq still held by IS, along with a stretch of the Euphrates Valley near the Syrian border which is also under attack.

It has been a militant bastion since soon after the US-led invasion of 2003.

The town's mainly Sunni Arab population is deeply hostile both to the Shia-led government in Baghdad and to the Kurds who form the historic majority in adjacent areas.

Hawija lies between the two main routes north from Baghdad - to second city Mosul, recaptured from IS in July, and to the city of Kirkuk and the autonomous Kurdish region.

Last year, government forces bypassed the area in their advance north to Mosul, which culminated in the militants' defeat in their most emblematic bastion.

IS has been forced out of most of the territory it seized in Iraq and Syria during a lightning offensive in the summer of 2014 that was followed by its declaration of a cross-border "caliphate".

The US-led coalition is also backing an Arab-Kurdish alliance, the Syrian Democratic Forces, that is battling to oust IS from its de facto Syrian capital Raqa.

The SDF has captured about 90 percent of Raqqa and is fighting fierce battles with remaining IS militants.

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 militants in Deir Ezzor - one by the SDF, the other by government forces supported by Russia.