BAGHDAD: Iraqi forces announced a new drive against holdout Daesh fighters in the western desert on Friday as Prime Minister Haider Abadi looks to proclaim victory over the terrorists.
Abadi has said he will not declare the insurgents 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 centers last month.
Troops and paramilitary Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi forces “launched a major drive to clear areas of Al-Jazeera region between Nineveh and Anbar (provinces) in the second phase of operations,” Joint Operations Command (JOC) said in a statement.
In a first phase of operations launched on Nov. 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 Gen. Yahya Rassoul said on Nov. 27 that they had already cleared 50 percent of the total area of the desert of around 29,000 square km.
At the peak of its power in 2014, Daesh ruled some 7 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.