Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi announces recapture of ISIS bastion Hawija

GETTYIraqi forces progress towards the town of Hawija

It was labeled "Kandahar in Iraq" for its similarities to the Taliban militia's citadel in Afghanistan.

Its mainly Sunni Arab population is deeply hostile both to the Shia-led government in Baghdad and to the Kurds who form the historic majority in adjacent areas.

ISIS' cross-border "caliphate" effectively collapsed in July, when US-backed Iraqi forces captured Mosul, the group's de facto capital in Iraq, in a grueling battle which lasted nine months.

Iraqi government forces yesterday stormed the city of Hawija, killing 196 jihadists and recapturing 98 surrounding villages.

No immediate details were available about the fate of civilians in the city.

Islamic State's cross-border "caliphate" effectively collapsed in July, when USA -backed Iraqi forces captured Mosul, the group's de facto capital in Iraq, in a grueling battle which lasted nine months.

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The office added that humanitarian agencies had set up checkpoints, camps and emergency sites ready to accommodate the thousands who could flee. It said on Tuesday there could have been as many as 78,000 people left in the town.

Major General Raid Shaker Jawdat, commander of Iraq's Federal Police, said, "The federal forces liberated the district of Hawija, the Hawija hospital as well as the Askari, Nidaa and Thawra neighbourhoods, and are in control of the centre of the province of Hawija in full".

Abadi is heading a large Iraqi government delegation in Paris that will also meet with French executives seeking close economic ties and reconstruction deals. The town was among the last IS strongholds in Iraq after troops retook the northern city of Mosul earlier this year. However, the relatively quick operation is a further sign that Isis territorial control is breaking down in Iraq.

The militants continue to control the border town of al-Qaim and the region surrounding it.

Town council chief Abdel Karim al-Ani told AFP: "This clearance operation is going to allow the displaced to return to their homes".

In response to Mr Al Abadi's announcement, the US-led coalition battling ISIL welcomed Iraq's "swift and decisive victory".

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