Iraq announces offensive to retake last Daesh bastion

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Iraqi forces backed by a U.S.-led air cover started an offensive to recapture Daesh's last stronghold in the western province of Anbar near the Syrian border

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi Thursday morning announced an offensive to recapture the western border region of al-Qaim and Rawa, close to the Syrian border, from the Daesh terrorist organization.

Al-Qaim and Rawa are the last patches of Iraq still in the hands of Daesh, after Iraqi forces have retaken more than 90 percent of territory seized by Daesh in the country in 2014. The terrorists are now confined to a stretch of the Euphrates Valley that connects some of the last areas they still hold in Syria.

"[Al-Qaim and Rawa] will all return to the arms of the motherland as a result of the determination and endurance of our fighting heroes. The people of [Daesh] have no choice but to die or surrender," Abadi said.

Iraqi troops, tribal fighters and pro-government Shiite militias are participating in the operation against Daesh, a senior military commander said. Chief of Western Anbar Operations, Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir Yarallah added that the operation is also aimed at securing Iraq's border with war-torn Syria.

Many Daesh hardliners are believed to have fled to al-Qaim amid pressures from recent government campaigns in northern Iraq. Thousands of Iraqi civilians have fled the region ahead of the onslaught, an aid group reported Thursday.

More than 10,000 have arrived in displacement camps close to Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, since the beginning of October, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), which provides emergency aid in the area.

"Displaced people living in Anbar are in dire need of assistance due to lack of resources," NRC Advocacy Manager Alexandra Saieh said. "Many of those living in the camps cannot go home and will be there for months, if not years, to come," she added.

The U.S.-led coalition fighting Daesh has said that this is "the last big fight" against the militants. In recent months, Daesh has suffered military setbacks, losing ground in Iraq and neighboring Syria. Abadi announced this month that Baghdad had driven Daesh from the town of Hawija, the radical group's last foothold in the country's north.

Daesh's self-declared, cross-border caliphate effectively collapsed in July, when U.S.-backed Iraqi forces captured Mosul, the terrorists' de facto capital in Iraq, in a grueling battle that lasted nine months. Raqqa, the militants' capital and stronghold in Syria, fell to U.S.-backed forces last week. Losing Raqqa is considered a huge blow for Daesh, which has steadily lost territory in Iraq and Syria, including Iraq's second-largest city of Mosul a few months ago.

Despite still holding parts of the Syrian side of the border, areas under Daesh control are shrinking as the terrorists retreat in the face of two sets of hostile forces – the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which are predominantly led by the PKK's Syrian affiliate Democratic Union Party's (PYD) armed People's Protection Units (YPG), and Syrian regime forces with foreign Shiite militias backed by Iran and Russia.

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