Iraqi forces enter al-Qaim, last IS bastion in Iraq: army
Iraqi forces on Friday entered al-Qaim, the main town in the Islamic State group's last bastion in the country, military commanders said.
Iraqi forces unleashed a barrage of artillery fire against militant positions inside the town early on Friday morning, backed by Iraqi and US-led coalition air strikes.
Troops from the army and the elite Counter Terrorism Service "have started the assault on the centre of al-Qaim," Staff Major General Noman Abed al-Zobai, the commander of the 7th Division, told AFP from the scene.
Shortly afterwards, another officer said on condition of anonymity that the town's Gaza district had fallen from IS hands.
"Counter Terrorism Service units and tribal fighters have liberated Gaza after violent clashes, leaving some terrorists dead, while others withdrew towards the centre of al-Qaim," he said.
The Iran-backed paramilitary Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) force said in a statement that militants had set fire to civilians' houses in the southwestern neighbourhood to make it hard to see them from the air.
Government forces launched the operation last week to seize al-Qaim and its surroundings, a pocket of barren desert along the Euphrates river near the border with Syria.
Home to around 150,000 people, mostly from Sunni tribes, it is the last Iraqi remnant of the self-styled caliphate IS declared after rampaging across Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Also on Friday, the Syrian regime announced its forces had seized IS's last stronghold in Syria, Deir az-Zour.
The Hashd said on Friday several IS fighters had fled across the border towards the Syrian town of Albu Kamal.
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