Iraqi forces seize strategic border crossing with Syria

Marie Harrington
November 4, 2017

The area could be a flash point for escalation, as both the Syrian Democratic Forces and the pro-government alliance - backed respectively by American and Russian warplanes - advance against the Islamic State's remaining pockets in the province, also called Deir al-Zour.

Last month, USA -backed militias declared victory in Raqqa, Islamic State's former headquarters in Syria, after months of fighting for the city with the help of the US -led coalition.

Early Friday morning, units from the Iraqi army, Counter-Terrorism Services, Sunni tribal and Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization forces (PMF) took part in an offensive to recapture al-Qaim and Rawa, two towns which lie on the border area with Syria.

After overrunning vast territories in northern and western Iraq in 2014, ISIS has recently suffered a string of major defeats.

Iraqi forces on Friday entered Al-Qaim, the main town in ISIS' last bastion in the country, military commanders said.

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But both the Iraqi and Syrian governments and their global backers say they worry that the fighters will still be able to mount guerrilla attacks once they no longer have territory to defend.

Last month, Al-Qaim became the last Daesh-held Iraq-Syria border crossing after Iraqi forces retook the Al-Walid and Rabia crossings respectively located in Anbar and Nineveh province.

He estimated there were 1,500-2,500 fighters left in al-Qaim and 2,000-3,000 in Albu Kamal.

Gaining control of Deir Ezzor was a significant victory for the Syrian government, and followed ISIS' ousting from Raqqa, the de facto capital of the caliphate.

The UN said the executed civilians were among at least 2,521 who were killed during the battle for the city, mostly from ISIS attacks, including indiscriminate shelling and the use of improvised bombs and explosive-laden drones.

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