Major Battlefronts against IS in Iraq and Syria


The Islamic State group has lost swathes of territory in its self-declared "caliphate" in recent months, including its former Iraqi hub Mosul and most of its Syrian bastion Raqa.

It is under attack in its remaining enclaves in Iraq and is facing parallel Russian- and US-backed offensives in Syria. Here are the main battlefronts:

- SYRIA -RAQA: The city was once the de facto Syrian capital of IS's self-declared "caliphate".

But the jihadists are now breathing their "last gasps" in a pocket of the city, a senior commander of the US-led coalition against IS told AFP this week.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, IS has lost around 90 percent of the city to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). 

The alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters worked for months to encircle Raqa, which had become a byword for the worst of IS's atrocities during its years under jihadist rule.

In June, the SDF broke into the city for the first time but the battle slowed down when they reached the more densely populated city centre.

Its advance has been assisted by heavy US-led air strikes that have reportedly killed hundreds of civilians.

The United Nations estimates that up to 15,000 civilians could remain in parts of Raqa, facing "incredibly difficult conditions".

DEIR EZZOR: IS's other main stronghold in Syria is the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, which borders IS-held territory in Iraq.

Two separate offensives are under way against the jihadists there -- one by the SDF, the other by government forces supported by Russia.

Regime troops advanced across the desert from the west to relieve two besieged garrisons in the city of Deir Ezzor, down the Euphrates Valley from Raqa.

The army now controls around 75 percent of the city and is battling to oust IS from the remainder, said the Observatory.

IS hit back on Thursday with attacks on government forces around Deir Ezzor and on their supply lines, killing dozens of troops.

SDF fighters meanwhile have captured more than 500 square kilometres (190 square miles) of territory in northeastern parts of the province, according to the US-led coalition.

They advanced from the north to attack IS on the east bank of the Euphrates.

IS also holds pockets of territory elsewhere, notably in eastern parts of the central provinces of Homs and Hama, where it is the target of a Russian-backed government offensive.

The jihadists are present in smaller numbers in the Yarmuk camp in south Damascus and a group allied with IS has a scattered presence in southern parts of Syria.

- IRAQ -HAWIJA: Iraqi forces on Friday launched an assault on the town of Hawija, one of the last remaining jihadist pockets in Iraq.

The enclave lies to the west of the ethnically divided Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk and includes several other mainly Sunni Arab towns.

Preparations for the offensive were overshadowed by an independence referendum that Iraqi Kurds held on Monday in areas including Kirkuk, to the anger of Baghdad.

Hawija has been a bastion of insurgency since the early months after the US-led invasion of 2003 and earned the nickname of "Kandahar in Iraq" from coalition troops for the ferocious resistance it put up similar to that in the Taliban militia's bastion in Afghanistan.

EUPHRATES VALLEY: IS controls one other pocket of territory in Iraq, a stretch of the Euphrates Valley near the border with Syria.

Last week Iraqi forces backed by paramilitary units and coalition warplanes launched a push up the valley.

After retaking the town of Anna in recent days, they are expected to target Rawa and finally Al-Qaim, which is close to the Syrian border and IS-held territory beyond. 

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