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Iraqi forces retake ancient city of Hatra from IS

Hatra includes a Unesco world heritage site that has been subjected to damage by the Islamic State group
Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) fire towards Islamic State militants during a battle in Hatra, southwest Mosul (Reuters)

Iraqi pro-government forces announced on Wednesday their recapture of the Unesco-listed ancient city of Hatra from the Islamic State militant group.

"Hashd al-Shaabi forces liberated the ancient city of Hatra... after fierce clashes with the enemy," said the Shia-dominated paramilitary group, also know as the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs)

Hatra, which lies in the desert southwest of Iraq's second city Mosul, includes a Unesco world heritage site.

A picture taken on October 13, 2010, shows people visiting the Roman period ancient fortress city of Hatra that dates to more than 2,000 years ago (AFP)

IS destroyed priceless objects in Hatra and at other archaeological sites after seizing swathes of Iraq and Syria in a lightening 2014 offensive.

The full extent of the harm to Hatra remains unclear.

Hatra, known as Al-Hadhr in Arabic, was established in the 3rd or 2nd century BC and became a religious and trading centre under the Parthian empire.

Its imposing fortifications helped it withstand sieges by the forces of two Roman emperors.

Hatra finally succumbed to Ardashir I, founder of the Sassanid dynasty, but the city remained well-preserved over the centuries that followed.

A picture taken on October 13, 2010, shows an entrance of the Roman period ancient fortress city of Hatra that dates to more than 2,000 years ago (AFP)

The PMUs launched a three-pronged offensive on Tuesday to retake the nearby modern town of Hatra, the statement said. The PMUs are an umbrella group for militias that mobilised to fight IS and were later integrated into Iraq's official defence apparatus.

Iraqi pro-government forces have been fighting since October to oust IS from Mosul, its last major urban bastion in Iraq.

The forces, backed by US advisers, artillery and air support, have cleared the east and half of western Mosul and are now focused on the Old City.

Some 400,000 people are trapped in the Old City while more than 300,000 have fled fighting since the operation started in October, officials have said.

The militant organisation shocked the world when it took over Mosul in June 2014 and then swept across much of the country's Sunni Arab heartland.

Its reach in Iraq peaked in August the same year when a second offensive saw it take over areas of northern Iraq that were home to various minorities and had been under the control of forces from the country's autonomous Kurdish region.

Iraqi forces with the backing of the US-led coalition - which has thousands of military personnel deployed in Iraq and carries out daily air strikes - began a major offensive to retake Mosul in October 2016.

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