THE military collapse of Isis continued yesterday, when Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the liberation of Hawija, west of Kirkuk.
Speaking in Paris at a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, Mr Abadi hailed the city’s capture as a “victory not just for Iraq but for the whole world.”
He said the next target for the offensive against the jihadists would be Anbar province, a vast and barren area bordering Syria through which several key oil and gas pipelines pass.
Meanwhile, army troops and Iranian-backed Popular Mobilisation Units militia pushed deeper into the well-populated Isis-held pocket of territory, driving the extremists back towards the oil-rich city of Kirkuk — currently under the control of Kurdish peshmerga forces.
In Paris, Mr Macron offered to mediate between Baghdad and Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over the latter’s bid for independence.
The KRG went ahead with an unofficial referendum two weeks ago, which was opposed by Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey — the four countries with large Kurdish minorities. The poll saw over 90 per cent back independence on a turnout of over 70 per cent.
Mr Macron insisted on the importance of “national reconciliation and inclusive governance” that includes Kurds, “with whom France maintains close ties.”
In Syria, the army advanced on several fronts, but was hard-pressed in the desert town of Suknah by a large Isis force that infiltrated from Iraq last week — apparently unhindered by the US-led military coalition.
The official Sana news agency reported that a column pushing south along the Euphrates valley from Deir Ezzor was within three miles of Mayadeen — a town that the US coalition and its Kurdish allies vowed to occupy last week.
The Syrian government’s Russian allies supported the advance with a barrage of 10 cruise missiles aimed at Isis command posts and ammunition dumps in the town, launched from two submarines in the Mediterranean.
And the army tightened the noose on the Isis pocket east of Salamiyah in central Homs province, having driven the extremists out of Hama to the north.
But Isis renewed its assault on Suknah, advancing to within firing range of the main road to the east and west that also supplies Deir Ezzor.