Iraqi Forces Launch Operation to Clear Last Isis Holdouts from Desert

Iraqi Forces Launch Operation to Clear Last Isis Holdouts from Desert

 Iraqi forces announced on Thursday (November 23) the launch of a major operation to clear remaining Islamic State (ISIS) fighters in the western desert near the border with Syria.

"The Iraqi army, the federal police and Hashid al-Shaabi [Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)] this morning began clearing the Al-Jazeera region straddling Salaheddin, Nineveh and Anbar provinces," the head of Joint Operations Command, General Abdelamir Yarallah, said in a statement.

The arid, sparsely populated wastelands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are the last refuge of the ISIS militants in Iraq after troops and paramilitaries ousted them from both valleys and all urban areas.

The region's dry valleys, the oases and steppes make up around four percent of national territory, Hisham al-Hashemi, an Iraqi expert on ISIS, told AFP last week.

Iraq's close ally Iran has already declared victory of ISIS but Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Tuesday that he would not follow suit until the desert has been cleared.

"After the operation has ended, we will announce the final defeat of Daesh in Iraq," he said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Over the border in neighboring Syria, pro-government forces and U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are conducting similar operations to clear ISIS fighters from the countryside north of the Euphrates valley after ousting them from all urban areas.