Last major Islamic State site freed
ISLAMIC State's last urban stronghold in Iraq has been recaptured, the Iraqi military has said.
The town of Hawija and the surrounding area were declared as freed from the jihadists' rule for the first time since 2014.
"The army's ninth armoured division, the Federal Police, the Emergency Response division and ... Popular Mobilisation Units liberated Hawija,” joint operations commander, Lieutenant-General Abdul Ameer Rasheed Yarallah said.
A total of 196 militants were killed and 96 villages around the town were liberated during the fighting, Lt-Gen Yarallah added.
US-backed Iraqi government troops and Iranian-trained Shia militias known as the Popular Mobilisation Units began the offensive on September 21.
The UN estimated 78,000 people were trapped in Hawija and surrounding villages under IS control.
Thousands of civilians braved mines, IS sniper fire and US-led coalition air strikes to flee the fighting.
The speedy conclusion to the operation means IS has lost its last major position in the country. Many militants have fled to the desert town of al-Qaim and other positions along the border with Syria.
IS is under pressure on both sides of the border and clings on to a fraction of the territory that once formed part of its so-called caliphate across the two countries.
IS control in Iraq effectively collapsed in July when its de facto capital, the city of Mosul, was recaptured by coalition forces after a gruelling nine-month battle.
In Syria, US-backed Arab and Kurdish forces have retaken 90% of IS's Syrian capital of Raqqa, and the Syrian government, backed by Russian air power and allied militias, is winning against the militants in the Deir Ezzor province.
As its once mighty caliphate crumbles, analysts expect IS to morph into an insurgency group across both Syria and Iraq, and to step up terror attacks worldwide. - Bethan McKernan, The Independent