Iraqi forces led the Islamic state from the center of Tal Afar and its historic citadel, said Saturday, putting them on the point of fully resuming one of the last strongholds in the country.
Progress, a few days later, in a strategic city, comes six weeks after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has declared victory over jihadists in the second city of Mosul, where the jihadist group said its “caliphate” in 2014.
“Units of the Counter-Terrorism Service liberated areas of the Citadel and Basatrie and raised the Iraqi flag over the citadel,” Operation Commander General Abdulamir Yarallah said in a statement.
The STC and federal police units also seized three districts in the north and the Al-Rabia district west of the citadel a day after taking the district of Al-Talia to the south.
Clashes occurred in the northern suburbs and Iraqi forces have dealt with late pockets of jihadists inside the city, Yarallah said.
Troops and government units of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary coalition, backed by a US-led coalition against IS, launched an assault Sunday after weeks of coalition and Iraqi air strikes.
Tal Afar is situated on a strategic road between the SI controlled territories in Syria and Mosul, 70 kilometers (40 miles) further east.
Progress has been much faster than in Mosul, Iraq’s second city, which fell to Iraqi forces in July after a tough nine-month battle.
Officials said they hoped to announce victory in Tal Afar by Eid al-Adha, Muslim festivities are expected to begin in Iraq on Sept. 2.
Most of the 200,000 inhabitants of Tal Afar, most of them Shia Turkmens, whose beliefs are anathema to IS Sunni strategists, fled when the jihadists arrived.
Pro-government forces have faced an obstacle blocked roads with landfills and strategically secured trucks, as well as the bombing of snipers and mortars.
Troops also said they discovered a network of underground tunnels used by jihadists to launch attacks behind the lines of territory already conquered or to escape.
The International Organization for Migration said “thousands of civilians” had fled Tal Afar since the start of the offensive.
Those fleeing in the desert areas face high temperatures for long periods of time, putting them at risk of dehydration, said Viren Falcao of the Danish Council for Refugees.
Once Tal Afar resumes, Baghdad is expected to launch a new offensive in Hawija, 300 kilometers north of Baghdad.
IS is also present in the immense western province of Anbar, where it controls several areas along the Syrian border with war-torn Syria, including the Al-Qaim region.
The jihadist group lost much of the controlled territory and thousands of combatants died.
France’s foreign and defense ministers traveled to Baghdad on Saturday to affirm their country’s support in the fight against IS.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defense Minister Florence Parly, who arrived in the Iraqi capital on Friday night, are scheduled to meet with Abadi.
French forces carried out air strikes and artillery in support of Iraqi operations.
“As long as our common enemy has not been eradicated, France will continue to participate” in the campaign, Parly said.