For­eign Spe­cial forces tar­get Is­lamic State in Haw­ija, Iraq of­fi­cial says

The Kurdish Globe - - FRONT PAGE -

For­eign spe­cial forces have been car­ry­ing out raids on an IS strong­hold in north­ern Iraq ahead of an of­fen­sive planned later this year to re­take Mo­sul, the largest city un­der the group's con­trol, Iraq's par­lia­men­tary speaker said.

For­eign spe­cial forces have been car­ry­ing out raids on an Is­lamic State strong­hold in north­ern Iraq ahead of an of­fen­sive planned later this year to re­take Mo­sul, the largest city un­der the group's con­trol, Iraq's par­lia­men­tary speaker said.

Sev­eral at­tacks be­hind Is­lamic State lines around Haw­ija, 210 kilo­me­ters (130 miles) north of Bagh­dad, were car­ried out in re­cent weeks, Salim al-Jabouri told Reuters on Thurs­day.

Both the U.S. and Iraqi mil­i­tary have de­nied that U.S. forces have car­ried out mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions on the ground in Haw­ija since Oc­to­ber, when U.S. spe­cial forces res­cued 69 Iraqis in a raid that killed one U.S. com­mando.

But Dubai-based al-Ha­dath TV and Iraqi me­dia have re­ported at least half a dozen raids in and around Haw­ija since late De­cem­ber, led by U.S. spe­cial forces.

Wash­ing­ton said last month it was de­ploy­ing a new force of around 100 spe­cial op­er­a­tions troops to Iraq to con­duct raids against Is­lamic State there and in neigh­bor­ing Syria, with­out pro­vid­ing de­tails.

U.S. Army Col. Steve War­ren, spokesman for the in­ter­na­tional coali­tion bomb­ing Is­lamic State, re­jected the me­dia re­ports this week, call­ing them "Ira­nian dis­in­for­ma­tion" aimed at dis­tract­ing from Iraqi mil­i­tary gains against Is­lamic State else­where.

He told Reuters that coali­tion forces in Iraq have not op­er­ated on the ground since the Oc­to­ber op­er­a­tion. Iraq's de­fense min­is­ter last week also de­nied that the U.S. had a role in such raids.

Spe­cial op­er­a­tions in Haw­ija "have been re­peated a se­cond and third time ... Th­ese op­er­a­tions are bear­ing fruit," said Jabouri, Iraq's most se­nior Sunni Arab of­fi­cial. "They elim­i­nate the ter­ror­ists and free in­no­cents, and for us it rep­re­sents a pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ment."

Jabouri said the raids were car­ried out "from time to time" and "sup­ported by Iraqi forces" but did not spec­ify whether the United States played a role or how many had oc­curred.

The raids are "not di­rect ground at­tacks; they are op­er­a­tions tar­get­ing the dens of Daesh in im­por­tant and sen­si­tive ar­eas," Jabouri said, us­ing an Ara­bic acro­nym for the group, which is also known as ISIS and ISIL.

He said they were not enough to get rid of Is­lamic State but "are deal­ing them strong blows".

Lo­cal sources near Haw­ija, in­clud­ing a po­lice of­fi­cer and a mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cial, said last week that sev­eral raids had tar­geted Is­lamic State build­ings in­clud­ing a court­house and a po­lice sta­tion, killing and cap­tur­ing sev­eral mil­i­tant lead­ers. Reuters could not in­de­pen­dently ver­ify the re­ports.

Road To Mo­sul

The Oc­to­ber raid that in- cluded U.S. spe­cial forces "is the only op­er­a­tion that we have spo­ken about and the only one that we will speak about," War­ren, the coali­tion spokesman, told re­porters on Tues­day.

That op­er­a­tion, con­ducted with Pesh­merga com­man­dos from north­ern Iraq's semi-au­ton­o­mous Kur­dis­tan re­gion, sparked out­rage by pow­er­ful Ira­nian-backed Shi'ite mili­tias and Abadi's own rul­ing coali­tion.

The mili­tias, many of which fought U.S. forces af­ter the 2003 in­va­sion, have de­cried the re­ports of more re­cent raids as U.S. at­tempts to di­vide Iraq.

Jabouri said such sen­si­tiv­i­ties were eas­ing and de­scribed the raids as part of Bagh­dad's strat­egy to re­take Mo­sul, the city 400 km (250 miles) north of Bagh­dad where Is­lamic State de­clared its in­ten­tion to es­tab­lish a caliphate stretch­ing across the bor­der with Syria.

Strate­gi­cally lo­cated east of the road from Bagh­dad to Mo­sul and near the Kur­dish-held oil re­gion of Kirkuk, the re­gion be­came an Is­lamic State strong­hold when the ul­tra-hard­line Sunni mil­i­tants swept across north­ern and west- ern Iraq in 2014.

The govern­ment has des­ig­nated Mo­sul as the next tar­get for Iraq's armed forces af­ter they re­took the western city of Ra­madi last month, the first ma­jor suc­cess of the U.S.trained force that ini­tially fled in the face of Is­lamic State's ad­vance.

Bagh­dad and the U.S.led coali­tion, though, have not made clear what path they in­tend to take to the cap­i­tal of Nin­eveh prov­ince while most of An­bar prov­ince re­mains un­der Is­lamic State con­trol.

Jabouri said the ad­vance to Mo­sul could not be rushed.

"We can­not think of mov­ing to an­other prov­ince un­til An­bar prov­ince is cleansed com­pletely, which means there is an up­com­ing bat­tle re­lated to Fal­luja and what re­mains of it, and an­other one to the west of Ra­madi," said Jabouri.

"At the same time there are prepa­ra­tions un­der­way for Nin­eveh," he added.

Fal­luja, the first Iraqi city to fall to Is­lamic State in Jan­uary 2014, con­tains sev­eral hun­dred mil­i­tants and is en­cir­cled by Iraqi forces.

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