Iraqi army forces are preparing to retake the last ISIS stronghold in the country, putting an end to the military group’s three-year presence.
Al-Qaim and Rawa are the last remaining territories controlled by ISIS militants in Iraq. U.S. officials in Baghdad estimate that there may be nearly 1,500 ISIS fighters in al-Qaim.
“The heroic legions are advancing to eliminate the last bastion of terrorism in Iraq to liberate al-Qaim, Rawa, villages and towns in western Anbar, all of which will return to the homeland,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement posted to Facebook Thursday morning.
Al-Qaim is a strategic town located near the Syrian border that was captured by ISIS militants in June of 2014. Before ISIS fighters invaded, Al-Qaim was a city of about 150,000.
Analyst comment: The post-ISIS jockeying for position, power, land and influence in the region has already begun, and no small portion of the jockeying is occurring in Iraq. This is due in large part to growing Iranian influence, especially after Iran-backed militias helped the Iraqi government expel ISIS. Now, Tehran is pushing Baghdad to end its bond with Washington, and already there appear to be cracks in that relationship. The way Iraq eventually tilts could have a major impact on U.S. operations in the region.
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