Iraqi Forces on Verge of Retaking Tal Afar From Isis

Iraqi forces have retaken virtually all of the city of Tal Afar, the Isis stronghold in the country’s northwest, according to its military.

All 29 neighbourhoods in Tal Afar have been taken back from the jihadist group after just eight days of fighting, the military said in a statement.

Iraqi soldiers were seen celebrating Tal Afar’s recapture on Sunday, taking down the Isis flags from the city centre and mocking the militants.

Fighting continues in al-‘Ayadiya, a small area 11 km northwest of the city, where militants who fled the district’s city centre are in hiding, Iraqi military spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Rasool said.

A declaration of complete victory will be made once Iraqi forces have retaken this area, he added.

The seemingly imminent retaking of Tal Afar represents another decisive victory in the US-backed war against the jihadist group following the recapture in July of Mosul, where Isis declared its self-proclaimed caliphate over parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

The assault on Tal Afar, which lies on the supply route between Syria and Mosul, began on 20 August when up to 2,000 militants were believed to be defending the city against around 50,000 attackers, according to Iraqi and western military sources.

Such a sudden seizing of the city would appear to confirm Iraqi military reports that the jihadists lack command and control structures in the area west of Mosul.

Residents who fled Tal Afar before the start of the offensive told Reuters some of the militants looked “exhausted” and “depleted” even before the battle commenced.

Elite forces liberated the heart of the city on Saturday, and raised the Iraqi flag on top of the citadel building, the military said.

Much of the Ottoman-era structure was destroyed by the militants in 2014.

“We tried to push out the militants without doing too much damage,” a Shi’ite militia soldier fighting with the Iraqi forces told Reuters. “We only used light weaponry.”

Fighting had almost ground to a halt by Saturday, with just occasional artillery rounds heard and no sign of civilians, according to reports.

Tens of thousands of people are believed to have fled in the weeks before battle commenced, with remaining civilians threatened with death by the militants, according to aid organisations and residents who managed to leave.

Tal Afar has suffered cycles of sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and has provided a breeding ground for the jihadists, producing some of the most senior Isis commanders.

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