Iraq launches third phase of anti-ISIS operations as coalition withdraws

Iraq on Monday launched the third phase of a military operation in the north to combat ISIS sleeper cells as US-led coalition forces begin to withdraw.

The military announced victory over the terrorist group in 2017, but in recent months ISIS militias have increased attacks across the north, killing and wounding Iraqi and foreign security personnel.

“We announce the start of the third phase of the Heroes of Iraq military operation to clear and inspect areas of Saladin, Diyala, Samarra, and Kirkuk from ISIS remnants,” Yehia Rasool, spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Defence, said.

صقور الجو في قيادة القوة الجوية يدكون اوكار العناصر الإرهابية ضمن عملية #ابطال_العراق بمرحلتها الثالثة.
— يحيى رسول | Yehia Rasool (@IraqiSpoxMOD) June 22, 2020 

The operation will be conducted by the Iraqi army, members of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, the Iraqi federal police and will be supported by Iraqi air forces and coalition warplanes, Mr Rasool said.

The operation will “target 4,853 square kilometres to search and chase terrorist elements, to raise our military presence and to ensure stability in those areas”, he said.

The terrorist group has bases in rural areas of Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Saladin and Mosul provinces.

ISIS has about 3,000 to 4,000 active fighters and 8,000 other personnel in Iraq, according to the Centre for Global Policy, a Washington-based think tank.

Since 2014, the main mission of US troops deployed in Iraq was to defeat ISIS.

The US has about 5,200 troops in Iraq as part of an international coalition fighting the terrorist group.

Yet, thousands of foreign troops from the US-led international coalition fighting ISIS left Iraq this year because of coronavirus concerns, which halted the military training programmes they led.

It was not known how many troops were relocated outside of Iraq.

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