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Iraqi Forces Prepare to Recapture Last ISIS Stronghold Tal Afar

Iraqi forces have been preparing for an assault on the city with air strikes and on Sunday Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of a ground offensive to capture the city.

AFP

Updated:August 20, 2017, 5:26 PM IST
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Iraqi Forces Prepare to Recapture Last ISIS Stronghold Tal Afar
Displaced women and children from the minority Yazidi sect, who were kidnapped by Islamic State militants of Tal Afar but managed to escape, are seen at a house in Duhok province, northern Iraq, November 24, 2016. Picture taken November 24, 2016. REUTERS/Ari Jalal/Files

Baghdad: The Iraqi city of Tal Afar is the main remaining stronghold of the Islamic State group in the country's north after the jihadists lost Mosul last month.

Iraqi forces have been preparing for an assault on the city with air strikes and on Sunday Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of a ground offensive to capture the city.

Retaking Tal Afar, once a key supply hub between Mosul and the Syrian border, would mark another victory in the battle to retake areas of Iraq and Syria seized by the jihadists in mid-2014.

Ancient city

Once an integral part of the Assyrian empire, Tal Afar's history goes back thousands of years. It is dominated by an Ottoman-era citadel, which was damaged in 2014 when IS militants blew up some of its walls.

In Iraq's northern Nineveh province, it lies some 450 kilometres (240 miles) northwest of the capital Baghdad and about 70 kilometres (45 miles) west of Mosul, Iraq's second city.

Turkmen Shiite enclave

The town had a population of around 200,000 before it fell to IS in the early days of the jihadists' June 2014 offensive in Iraq. Local officials say it is impossible to know the exact number still living inside the city.

The town was a Shiite-majority enclave in the mostly Sunni Muslim area and its population was overwhelmingly Turkmen, one of Iraq's largest ethnic minorities.

Tal Afar's Shiites were directly targeted by IS while some members of its Sunni minority joined the jihadists and went on to form a contingent with a particularly brutal reputation.

Strategic target

On the road between Mosul and the Syrian border, Tal Afar has been a crucial hub in IS supply routes between Iraq and Syria. And while it lacks Mosul's size, the city is of important symbolic value as the last major population centre in northern Iraq still in jihadist hands.

Iran, the region's main Shiite power, and Turkey, which shares a Turkic heritage with the Turkmen, will also be keeping a close eye on developments in the city.

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| Edited by: Mirza Arif Beg
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