Iraqi forces backed by the U.S.-led coalition recaptured Rawa, the last urban area in Iraq held by the Islamic State (IS).
Islamic State losses include all of its major strongholds in Iraq and Syria, virtually confining it to pockets of countryside on the Iraq-Syria border.
Rawa is one of the main towns that sits on the Euphrates River, and was used by IS to transfer fighters, weapons and goods between Iraq and Syria.
The operation to take back Rawa lasted five hours, the troops encountering a limited number of IS fighters that couldn’t withstand the Iraqi forces. Some of the fighters died while others fled toward the western Anbar desert.
The Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi made a statement after the operation, congratulating Iraq forces for retaking the town quickly but stopped short of declaring full victory over the Islamic State.
U.S.-led coalition forces supported the operations to retake Rawa and al-Qaim with intelligence, airstrikes and advisers.
On November 3rd, Iraqi security forces retook al-Qaim district, Islamic State’s last main stronghold in the country. On the same day, the Syrian Army and its allies recaptured Deir ez-Zor city from Islamic State, which was the group’s last stronghold in Syria.
Iraqi forces retook Mosul in July, which was proclaimed the IS capital in Iraq in 2014. U.S.-backed forces retook Raqqa in October, which was the IS capital in Syria. IS has now been driven out of almost 95% of the land the group once held in Iraq and over 4.4 million Iraqis are no longer under its rule.
Near the border of Iraq, the Syrian Army pushed IS out of Abu Kamal on November 8th, but IS fighters recaptured 40 percent of the city and a fight between IS and Syrian government forces is still happening. Abu Kamal shares a border crossing with al-Qaim in Iraq where they have been able to move fighters and equipment between countries.
Iraqi forces will continue to fight in the desert and work toward securing the nearby border with Syria. The lack of civilians in the desert areas where IS fighters are fleeing will allow Iraqi forces to use heavy airstrikes to eliminate remaining IS positions.
Despite Islamic States’ territorial losses, the group’s media presence remains intact, recruiting supporters and inspiring new attacks. IS fighters are expected to continue carrying out insurgent-style attacks in Syria, Iraq and possibly Europe and the U.S. Since losing its capital of Mosul in July, the group has been able to stage deadly suicide bombings and its fighters have killed civilians throughout Iraq.