Haider Al Abadi
Baghdad: Iraqi forces announced a new drive against holdout Daesh terrorists in the western desert on Friday as Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi looks to proclaim victory over them.
Al Abadi has said he will not declare the terrorists have been defeated until they have been cleared from the dry valleys and other natural hideouts that have provided them with a desert refuge since they lost their last urban centres last month.
Troops and paramilitary Hashed Al Shaabi forces “launched a major drive to clear areas of the Al Jazeera region between Nineveh and Anbar provinces in the second phase of operations,” Joint Operations Command said in a statement.
In a first phase of operations launched on November 23, government forces moving south from Nineveh and north from Anbar already linked up, clearing large parts of the desert between the Tigris and Euphrates valleys.
JOC spokesman General Yahya Rasul said on November 27 that they had already cleared 50 per cent of the total area of the desert of around 29,000 square kilometres.
At the peak of its power in 2014, Daesh ruled some seven million people in a territory as large as Italy, encompassing large parts of Syria and nearly a third of Iraq.
It is now confined to just a few small pockets, most of them in the desert.
During a visit to the Middle East on Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron said he expected Iraq to declare victory over Daesh by the end of this month.