ISIS nearly expelled from last urban post
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.