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Iran-backed Iraqi force takes IS villages on Syria border

The Popular Mobilisation forces described its advance as a 'Ramadan miracle'
The land taken by the PMU links up with territory held by Syrian Kurds on the Syrian side of the border (Tom Westcott/MEE)

An Iraqi Shia Muslim force backed by Iran said it pushed Islamic State out of a group of villages on the border with Syria on Monday, a manoeuvre that could weaken the militants' hold on the frontier.

The Iraqi territory taken by the Popular Mobilisation force connected with land held by US-backed Syrian Kurdish groups on the Syrian side, creating a possible bridge.

In a statement on its website, Popular Mobilisation described its advance through Iraq to the border with Syria as "a Ramadan miracle", referring to the Muslim fasting month which started over the weekend. 

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Elsewhere on Monday, Iraqi forces pressed on with their operation against IS in west Mosul. 

For Popular Mobilisation, it is a step towards achieving a link-up with Assad forces, giving him a significant advantage in fighting the six-year rebellion against his rule.

But the territory is connected with land held by US-backed Syrian Kurdish groups on the Syrian side.

They are more focused on fighting Islamic State than Assad and it is not known whether the Syrian Kurds would allow the Iraqi Shia force to use their territory to reach Assad's troops, deployed further south and further west.

Popular Mobilisation is taking part in the US-backed Iraqi campaign to defeat Islamic State in the city of Mosul and the surrounding province of Nineveh.

Iraqi government armed forces are focusing their effort on dislodging insurgents from the city of Mosul, Islamic State's de-facto capital in Iraq.

While reporting nominally to Iraq's Shia-led government, Popular Mobilisation has Iranian military advisers, one of whom died last week fighting near Baaj.

Iran has helped to train and organise thousands of Shia militia fighters from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Syrian conflict.

Fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah are also working closely with Iranian military commanders in Syria.

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