Thursday 27 July 2017

Islamic State 'has lost most of the land it seized in Iraq'

An Iraqi woman carries a bird as she flees heavy fighting in Mosul (AP/Maya Alleruzzo)
An Iraqi woman carries a bird as she flees heavy fighting in Mosul (AP/Maya Alleruzzo)

The Islamic State group has lost more than three-quarters of the territory it seized when it swept across Iraq in the summer of 2014, the Iraqi military said.

Military spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Rasool said the extremist group currently controls less than 12,000 square miles in Iraq, or 6.8% of the country's territory, down from more than 40% at its height.

The extremist group has also lost ground in Syria, and is currently fighting US-backed forces near Raqqa, the de facto capital of its self-styled Islamic caliphate.

Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes have gradually pushed the militants out of a string of towns and cities over the past two years, and are currently battling the extremists in Mosul, Iraq's second largest city.

Iraq declared eastern Mosul "fully liberated" in January, and Rasool said Iraqi forces have retaken more than half of the more densely populated western side.

"Our troops are very cautious in their advance," Brig Gen Rasool told reporters in Baghdad. "The biggest challenge they face is the civilians."

Colonel John Dorrian, a US spokesman for the coalition, said the fight for western Mosul has been "difficult".

"The enemy's tactics are not only hiding among the civilian population but also actively pulling civilians into harm's way, surrounding their snipers with civilians, loading buildings that they are firing from with civilians and publicly executing civilians who are trying escape the danger," he said.

Victory against IS has come at a staggering cost, with some towns and neighbourhoods reduced to rubble by air strikes and shelling.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been displaced, and many have been unable to return, even after the fighting, because of demolished infrastructure and the lingering threat of attacks.

AP

Press Association

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