Iraq Claims Victory Over Islamic State in Hawija

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An estimated 12,500 people fled Hawija since the operation began to retake the town and surrounding areas.

Iraq's prime minister says government forces have retaken the northern town of Hawija from Islamic State extremists, one of their last strongholds in Iraq. They participated in the Hawija battle, putting them in close proximity to Kurdish peshmerga forces and raising fears of clashes between the groups. Footage released by Iraqi police shows troops walking through a nearby village, greeting and dancing with its residents who have been living under Islamic State since 2014.

The recapture is a strategic win for Iraqi troops, backed by a US-led coalition, who for the a year ago have been pushing to drive IS from parts of the country.

The jihadist group still controls large parts of the valley in the neighbouring Syrian province of Deir al-Zour, but it is under pressure there from Syrian pro-government forces and a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters.

BBC reports that Hawija, where tens of thousands of civilians live, has been under the militant group's control since 2014. The town had been an insurgent bastion since soon after the United States-led invasion of 2003, earning it the nickname of "Kandahar in Iraq" for the ferocious resistance it put up similar to that in the Taliban militia's citadel in Afghanistan.

Iraqi commanders in Hawija said on Thursday that the militants had blown up several government buildings, shops and homes in the Hawija city center.

The militants continue to control the border town of al-Qaim and the region surrounding it.

A statement for Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led coalition fighting IS, said "battle-hardened" troops had fought for 14 days to liberate the city.

Coupled with ongoing battles to evict the group from the Syrian cities of Raqqa and Deir al-Zour, the Islamic State is under enormous military pressure and has ceded roughly 90 percent of the territory it once controlled. "All that remains is the strip on the border with Syria".

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