Mon, Jul 11, 2016 - Page 4 News List

Iraq says key base taken back from IS

POLITICAL FALLOUT:Iraq’s interior minister resigned and Baghdad’s police chief was sacked after a series of bombings tore through the nation’s capital last week

AP, BAGHDAD

Iraqi security forces patrol after regaining control of villages north of Ramadi, 115km west of Baghdad, on Saturday.

Photo: AP

Iraqi forces on Saturday recaptured a northern air base from the Islamic State (IS) group, a victory hailed by the Iraqi prime minister as a key step ahead of the long-awaited operation to retake the northern city of Mosul.

In a statement issued on his Web site, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi described the air base in the town of Qayara as an “important base to liberate Mosul,” and called on Mosul residents “to get ready for the liberation of their areas.”

Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, fell to IS militants in the summer of 2014, when the extremist group captured large swaths of northern and western Iraq. In late March, Iraqi forces launched an operation aimed at dislodging the IS from areas to the south and southeast of Mosul and gradually cutting off the city’s supply lines.

However, retaking Mosul itself is not likely to come anytime soon. It will be an enormous undertaking for Iraqi troops, even though they are backed by airstrikes from the US-led coalition and have been joined by pro-government fighters — mostly Shiite militias.

In the mostly Sunni province of Anbar, west of Baghdad, government troops on Saturday consolidated their grip on the provincial capital of Ramadi, retaken from the IS last year, when they captured two villages just north of the city.

A video of the fighting showed government troops rocketing IS positions and black smoke billowing up in the distance. Troops backed by armored cars were later seen marching inside a date palm grove.

The IS group was pushed out of the Anbar city of Fallujah last month after holding it for more than two years.

However, despite recent territorial losses in both Iraq and Syria, where the group has established its self-proclaimed caliphate, the IS has demonstrated its continued ability to launch offensive attacks in Iraqi government government-held territory and beyond. The militants still hold large pockets of territory in northern and western Iraq.

On Sunday last week, a massive truck bombing in Baghdad killed at least 186 people in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood.

On late Thursday, an attack at a Shiite shrine north of Baghdad killed 37 people. The IS has claimed responsibility for both attacks.

On Friday, the Iraqi prime minister accepted the resignation of Iraqi Interior Minister Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban. Hours earlier the prime minister fired Baghdad’s security chief over the attacks that hit in or near the capital during the past week.

Al-Abadi described the recent attacks as the militants’ response to Iraq’s “great victory in Fallujah, which stunned the world.”

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