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Iraq recaptures Tal Afar centre, citadel from IS

Iraq recaptures Tal Afar centre, citadel from IS A fighter of the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation units) flashes the victory gesture during the advance in the eastern part of the town of Tal Afar, west of Mosul, after the Iraqi government announced the launch of the operation to retake it from Islamic State (IS) group control, on August 25, 2017. (Agence France-Presse/Ahmad Al-Rubaye)
Ali Choukeir and Valerie Leroux
Tal Afar, Iraq   ●   Sat, August 26, 2017 2017-08-26 22:38 1358 4065a5a8898c7cc661d4adf97ae0d30f 2 World Iraq,IS,war,jihad Free

Iraqi forces announced Saturday the ouster of Islamic State group jihadists from central Tal Afar and its historic citadel, leaving them poised to fully recapture one of the last IS urban strongholds in the country.

The advance, less than a week into an assault on the strategic city, comes after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory in July over the jihadists in Iraq's second city Mosul, where IS declared its "caliphate" in 2014.

It came on the day of a visit to Baghdad by the French foreign and defence ministers during which a loan of 430 million euros ($512 million) was announced to help the Iraqi economy in the face of low oil prices and the cost of battling the jihadists.

"Units of the Counter-Terrorism Service liberated the Citadel and Basatin districts and raised the Iraqi flag on top of the citadel," operation commander General Abdulamir Yarallah.

The CTS and federal police units also seized three northern districts and the Al-Rabia neighbourhood west of the citadel, after retaking the district of Al-Taliaa to the south on Friday.

On Saturday, they battled IS jihadists around Al-Ayadieh, 15 kilometres (10 miles) north of Tal Afar and strategically located on the road between the city and the Syrian border, said Yarallah.

Columns of smoke could be seen rising over the city after the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary coalition fighting alongside government troops seized the Al-Khadra and Al-Jazeera districts.

Abbas Radhi, a Hashed al-Shaabi fighter, said IS had resisted the advance mostly with sniper fire. "There are also booby-trapped cars, mortars. But they've been defeated, God willing," he said.

Government troops and units of the Hashed al-Shaabi, backed by a US-led coalition against IS, launched the assault last Sunday after weeks of coalition and Iraqi air strikes.

Tal Afar sits on a strategic route between IS-controlled territories in Syria and Mosul, 70 kilometres (40 miles) further east.

Progress in Tal Afar has been far more rapid than in Mosul, which only fell to Iraqi forces after a gruelling nine-month battle.

Officials have said they hope to announce victory in Tal Afar by Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holiday set to start in Iraq on September 2.

Until its takeover by IS, Tal Afar was largely populated by Shiite Turkmen, whose beliefs are anathema to the Sunni jihadists.

Most of the city's 200,000-strong population fled after IS seized it.