ISIS nearly ex­pelled from last ur­ban post

The Mercury News Weekend - - NEWS - By Mustafa Salim and Tamer El- Ghobashy

DIBIS, IRAQ » Iraqi forces have re­claimed the town of Haw­i­jah from the Is­lamic State, Iraq’s prime min­is­ter said Thurs­day, though fight­ing con­tin­ued in pock­ets of the last sig­nif­i­cant ur­ban ter­ri­tory con­trolled by the mil­i­tant group.

Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi made the an­nounce­ment from Paris, where he was meet­ing with French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron to dis­cuss a grow­ing cri­sis over an in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum held by Iraq’s Kurds.

Macron of­fered to me­di­ate be­tween the Iraqi cen­tral govern­ment and the Kurds, even as other re­gional pow­ers have taken steps to isolate the Kur­dish re­gion in re­tal­i­a­tion for last week’s vote.

France has been a tra­di­tional pro­po­nent of Kur­dish self- de­ter­mi­na­tion, but Macron said Iraq’s ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity must be main­tained — dash­ing hopes by Kur­dish of­fi­cials that France would be one of the few na­tions to sup­port a pos­si­ble break from Bagh­dad.

Haw­i­jah, about 140 miles north of Bagh­dad, marked an im­por­tant test of mil­i­tary co­or­di­na­tion be­tween Kur­dish forces, known as pesh­merga, and Iraqi govern­ment troops.

The town is in Kirkuk prov­ince, an oil-rich re­gion that is hotly dis­puted by both Arabs and Kurds and has been a fo­cal point in decades-old dis­cord be­tween Bagh­dad and Kur­dish lead­ers over bor­ders.

The United States op­posed the Kur­dish ref­er­en­dum, claim­ing it would threaten co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Iraqi and Kur­dish forces in the fight against the Is­lamic State at a time when the ex­trem­ist group is reel­ing from con­sec­u­tive mil­i­tary de­feats.

Hundreds of sus­pected mil­i­tants are now be­ing held at a Kur­dish in­tel­li­gence fa­cil­ity in Dibis.

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