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US dividing Iraq from Syria with border air strikes against IS

Coalition air strikes are taking a toll on IS in the desert region between Iraq and Syria, but also killing civilian farmers and nomads
A pro-Assad fighter looks at smoke billowing from an IS position following an air strike near the town of al-Bab in Aleppo's eastern countryside, on 24 January 2016 (AFP)

The United States has recently been targeting Islamic State militants in the desert region on the Iraq-Syria border in an effort to re-separate the two countries. The campaign has resulted in the killing of dozens ofcivilian farmers and nomads, according to reports.

Pan-Arab daily al-Araby al-Jadeed reported that "more than 50 air raids were carried out by international coalition forces during the past eight days on desert border areas, on cities and areas located on the Euphrates river".

Local and medical sources told the Arab daily, however, that "these raids killed more than 40 civilians in IS-held areas. Most of the victims are nomads and villagers".

The strikes are taking place between the western Iraqi city of al-Qaim and eastern Syrian city of Abu Kamal.

Iraqi security officials said the targets include IS training camps and weapon warehouses and have resulted in significant losses for the group.

But witnesses in the area have confirmed an increasing death toll among civilians working in the area's wheat and barley fields.

Tribal leader Sheikh Saeed al-Issawi told al-Araby al-Jadeed that the air raids were killing militants and civilians alike.

"Re-separating Iraq from Syria has become a prime condition for the elimination of ISIS," he said. "The mission is being carried out now by coalition forces through daily air raids in order to make ISIS leave the desert area."

IS seized nearly a third of Iraq's territory in the summer of 2014 after sweeping across the porous border with neighbouring Syria.

Recent reports in local Iraqi media have cited defence ministry officials speaking on operations in the region.

On Tuesday evening, for example, officials said these had destroyed missile launchers at IS camps deep in Anbar province – a clear reference to the border with Syria.

Recent military leaks reported in local media said there was "a new American plan to completely isolate the western areas of Iraq from neighbouring Syria" and that "this began through intensive bombing on those areas".

The leaks said that "the plan seeks to enable Iraqi security forces and tribesmen to move into these areas and re-capture them, in conjunction with the Iraqi forces moving from the Hit-al-Baghdadi axis towards the upper Euphrates and down to the border with Syria".

Colonel General Mohammed al-Wadi told al-Araby al-Jadeed that because IS is present in difficult terrain, "even if al-Anbar and Nineveh are fully captured, there will be a lot of problems and threats.

"At the moment, IS areas can only be targeted through international air strikes because of the danger that threatens ground forces if they enter these areas," al-Wadi said.

"Thus, we can consider the current and intensive operations taking place right now as the beginning of wearing down IS and making them lose their stability and security in the area."