(Reuters) Iraqi forces launched an operation on Thursday to clear the desert bordering Syria of ISIS in a final push to rid Iraq of the militant group, the military said.
Troops from the Iraqi army and Shi‘ite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) were taking part in the campaign against militants hiding in a large strip of border land, Iraqi military officials said.
“The objective behind the operation is to prevent remaining Daesh groups from melting into the desert region and using it as a base for future attacks,” said army colonel Salah Kareem, referring to ISIS by an Arabic acronym.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Tuesday ISIS had been defeated from a military perspective but he would only declare final victory after IS militants were routed in the desert.
Iraqi forces on Friday captured the border town of Rawa, the last remaining town under ISIS control, signalling the collapse of the group’s “caliphate” proclaimed after it overran much of Iraq’s north and west in 2014.
Iraqi army commanders say the military campaign will continue until all the frontier with Syria is secured to prevent ISIS from launching cross border attacks.
“We will completely secure the desert from all terrorist groups of Daesh and declare Iraq clean of those germs,” said army Brigadier General Shakir Kadhim.