Tal Afar castle after it was liberated from Isis militants  - 1503848065 987 3000 - Iraqi forces retake most of Tal Afar from Islamic State

Iraqi forces have retaken almost all of Tal Afar, Islamic State’s stronghold in the north-west of the country, the military has said.

Fighting was ongoing in al-Ayadiya, a small area just outside the city. Iraqi forces were waiting to retake the city’s surrounding areas to declare a complete victory.

The US-backed operation comes just over a month after Mosul was retaken from the terror group, ending its three-year rule over Iraq’s second city and confining the extremists to ever-shrinking pockets of the country, stretching to the Syrian border. It was from Mosul that Isis declared its self-proclaimed caliphate over parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

On Saturday Iraqi counter-terrorism units said they had taken control of the centre of Tal Afar, including its historic Ottoman citadel. “They raised the Iraqi flag on the citadel,” said General Abdulamir Yarallah, commander of military operations in the battle.

Iraqi forces now hold “94% of the city, 27 out of 29” districts including the centre and citadel, according to the Joint Operations Command (JOC), which coordinates the anti-Isis operation in Iraq.

Columns of smoke could be seen rising over the city after the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary coalition fighting alongside government troops seized the districts of al-Khadra and al-Jazeera.

Abbas Radhi, a Hashed al-Shaabi fighter, said Isis had resisted the advance mostly with sniper fire. “There are also booby-trapped cars, mortars. But they’ve been defeated, God willing,” he said.

Government troops and units of the Hashed al-Shaabi, backed by a US-led coalition, launched the assault last Sunday after weeks of coalition and Iraqi airstrikes.

Progress in Tal Afar has been far more rapid than in Mosul, which fell to Iraqi forces only after a gruelling nine-month battle. Officials have said they hope to announce victory by Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holiday set to start in Iraq on 2 September.

Tal Afar sits on a strategic route between Isis-controlled territories in Syria and Mosul, 40 miles (70km) further east.

Until its takeover by Isis, Tal Afar was largely populated by Shia Turkmen, whose beliefs are anathema to the Sunni jihadists. Most of the city’s 200,000-strong population fled after Isis seized it.

Some members of Tal Afar’s Sunni minority joined jihadist ranks, forming an Isis contingent with a particular reputation for violence.

Officials said the capture of the city would make it more difficult for the jihadists to transport fighters and weapons between Iraq and Syria.

Isis has lost much of the territory it controlled and thousands of its fighters have been killed since late 2014, when the US-led international coalition was set up to defeat the group.

It retains territory in Iraq and neighbouring Syria, where a US-backed Kurdish-Arab coalition is fighting to drive the group from its de facto Syrian capital, Raqqa.

Once Tal Afar is retaken, Baghdad is expected to launch a new offensive on Hawija, 180 miles north of Baghdad.

theguardian

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