Iraq forces seize villages in last IS-held pocket
Iraqi forces seized several villages from the Islamic State group on Saturday in an operation to retake the last pocket of jihadist-held territory in the country, the operation's commander said.
The Euphrates Valley town of Rawa and nearby villages were bypassed by government troops and allied militia when they retook the town of Al-Qaim on the Syrian border last week.
But on Saturday, troops backed by militia recruited among the region's Sunni Arab tribes "launched a major offensive to liberate Rumana and the Rawa area,", General Abdelamir Yarallah said.
He later said they had "retaken Rumana and its bridge on the Euphrates" along with 10 other villages.
Rumana is on the north side of the Euphrates just across from Al-Qaim, while the small town of Rawa lies downstream.
Several officers told an AFP reporter in Rumana that Iraqi forces had managed to foil at least two IS suicide car bomb attacks.
"Troops are continuing their advance," Yarallah said.
Rawa is the last town still held by IS apart from Albu Kamal, just across the Syrian border, where the jihadists were still battling Syrian regime and allied forces on Saturday after mounting a surprise counterattack late Thursday.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is also head of the armed forces, said Saturday the operation also aims to "clean open areas in the desert" of western Iraq.
The recapture of the Rawa pocket would mark the final battleground defeat of IS in Iraq and sound the death knell of the sprawling "caliphate" the group declared in 2014 over a swathe of Iraq and Syria the size of Britain.
Across the border, the Syrian army had declared victory in the battle for Albu Kamal.
But IS fighters pushed back in from the desert to the north where they still control a strip of territory between areas held by government troops and by US-backed Kurdish-led forces.
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