Global Independent Analytics

Iraq Launches Western Operation Against Islamic State

Iraq's security forces have announced the start of an operation to retake control of Ar-Rutbah, a town in western Anbar province that links Islamic State-controlled areas there with the Jordanian and Syrian borders.

Chris Hannas reports for Voice of America: U.S. Defense Department spokesman Peter Cook told said, "You can look at a map and see the significance of that part of Anbar Province." "If the Iraqi security forces were able to secure Rutbah, it would be a significant step forward in the fight against ISIL and a significant step in terms of being able to cut off that flow from the Jordanian border from west to east towards Baghdad."

Islamic State lost control of a stretch of territory in eastern Syria and across the border near Sinjar, Iraq, this year. Thus, a line of control extending from Syria's Deir Ezzor province to Mosul and areas further south in Iraq was interrupted.

Only the Qaim area in Anbar province would be a solid line of Islamic State control between Syria and Iraq after losing western link around Rutbah. That stretch is vastly important for the militant group since it runs through its de facto capital in Raqqa, Syria, and connects to a border crossing with Turkey that can be used to bring in supplies and fighters.

Cook gave his latest assessment of the overall fight against the militant group Monday. He said thet ISIS has now lost 45 percent of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and between 16 and 20 percent in Syria.

Islamic State swept through large areas of northern and western Iraq and eastern Syria in the middle of 2014, overwhelming Iraqi forces and taking advantage of the chaotic civil war in Syria to establish its self-declared Islamic caliphate.  The severity of the offensive is clear from casualties suffered by Iraqi troops.

In June 2014, Iraqi security forces lost 886 soldiers, compared to 196 the month before, according to U.N. data. More than 5,200 were killed Last year they lost 5,200 members, and about 1,500 in 2016.

Militia fighters and a U.S.-led coalition conducting airstrikes against the militants have been key in supporting Iraqi forces in operations to recapture areas such as Ramadi and Tikrit during the past year. Main efforts in Syria were concentrated along the border with Turkey. Once, ISIS controlled there hundreds of kilometers and key crossings. According to last data, today Islamic State controls not more than 100 kilometers of the border near Aleppo. 

In both Iraq and Syria, violence linked to the Islamic State group has killed thousands of people and created humanitarian emergencies with people struggling to get access to food and healthcare.  Many people have fled their homes, either to other areas within the two countries or to places like Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Europe.  Those migrations have come with their own set of problems, with sometimes negative receptions from communities and governments struggling to provide basic services for increased populations.

 

By Stefan Paraber for GIA

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