Iraqi forces, backed by coalition air strikes and tribal fighters, have pushed the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant from Qayyarah, a northern town considered strategic for any future offensive against the group’s last stronghold of Mosul.
“We control all parts of the town and managed, in very limited time, to root out Daesh [ISIL],” Lieutenant General Riyadh Jalal Tawfik, who commands Iraq’s ground forces, told reporters in Qayyarah on Thursday.
The commander said engineering units were now clearing the town, which lies about 60 kilometres south of Mosul, of unexploded ordnance and booby traps.
Abdul-Ghani al-Asadi, the commander of the anti-terrorism agency, earlier said that Iraqi security forces killed about 250 fighters including leaders of different nationalities in the conflict over Qayyarah.
“Qayyarah tribes also played a major role in liberating the town through cooperating with security forces and offering them intelligence about Daesh,” he said.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a statement hailing what he said was a key step towards reclaiming Mosul, ISIL’s de facto Iraq capital and the country’s second city.
“Our heroic forces achieved a big victory, an important step towards the liberation of Mosul,” Abadi said.
“I present my congratulations to the Iraqi people for the liberation of the strategic town of Qayyarah and neighbouring areas,” he said.
The operation to retake Qayyarah was launched on Tuesday and led by Iraq’s elite counterterrorism service.
Iraqi forces had already recaptured a nearby airfield and Qayyarah is expected to become one of the main launchpads for an assault on Mosul in the coming weeks or months.
Some analysts say the armed campaign against ISIL is entering its final phases in Iraq and Syria.