Iraqi forces were today on the verge of fully recapturing the city of Tal Afar after driving Islamic State group jihadists from the centre of one of their last urban strongholds in the country.
Counter terrorism units have taken control of the centre of the city, which includes its historic Ottoman citadel.
“They raised the Iraqi flag on the citadel,” General Abdulamir Yarallah, commander of military operations in the battle for Tal Afar, said in a statement.
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.
Iraqi forces now hold “94 percent of the city, 27 out of 29” districts including the centre and citadel, according to the Joint Operations Command (JOC) which coordinates the anti-IS operation in Iraq.
The announcement on Saturday came as the French foreign and defence ministers visited Baghdad to announce a loan of 430 million euros (USD 512 million) to help the Iraqi economy in the face of low oil prices and the cost of battling the jihadists.
On Saturday, units also battled IS around Al-Ayadieh, 15 kilometres (10 miles) north of Tal Afar and strategically located on the road between the city and the Syrian border, Yarallah said.
In the whole Tal Afar region, “1,155 square kilometres of 1,655 square kilometres, or 70 percent of the area, have been taken” the JOC said.
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.
Some members of Tal Afar’s Sunni minority joined jihadist ranks, forming an IS contingent with a particular reputation for violence.
Pro-government forces faced an obstacle course of roads blocked with earth embankments and strategically parked trucks, as well as sniper fire and mortar shelling.
Troops also said they discovered a network of underground tunnels used by IS to launch attacks behind lines of already conquered territory, or to escape.