On March 19 the Iraqi army said it retook the remote town of Rutba which had been captured by the so-called Islamic State in 2014, as with most of Iraq’s northwest.
The anti-terrorist forces and the Iraqi military, with support from the coalition led by the US launched the offensive on Rutba which is in Anbar province, located to the west of Ramadi and Fallyuja and 360 kilometres west of Baghdad. The military said the town had been “completely liberated”.
The town is of high strategic value lying on the international highway connecting this part of Iraq with Syria. In addition it served as an important rear base for ISIL’s operations in battle zones further north and east.
“Resistance was weak, there were only bombs, which were planted in shops, restaurants and vehicles. We have finished with them in Rutba and we will chase them out of the whole area along the highway,” one Iraqi military commander told reporters while another added: “Civilians have provided us with accurate intelligence about the hideouts of the enemy, car bombs, roads used by the enemy and the safety of those roads used by the military convoys.”
But to the north ISIL still controls the city of Mosul, the largest in the north. It has occupied it since June 2014 and continues to hold strategic positions in many of the villages dotted around the metropolis like Sultan Abdullah.
Images show the bombing by the Combined Joint Task Force of an ISIL fuel dump and a transportation barge used to cross the river Tigris near Sultan Abdullah. The US Defence department, which released the video said the action took place in April.
On March 24 Iraqi forces backed by the international coalition launched military operations on villages like al Nasir located south of Mosul. The tactic was to open and secure the road to advance to the city. The authorities have pledged to retake Mosul this year in keeping with a US plan to oust the militants from their de facto capitals in Iraq and Syria.
On the other side of the border in Syria Raqqa is ISIL’s stronghold. It is the ambition of the Syrian army to dislodge them from the city but to do that they must first clear the militant group from Deir al-Zor which links Raqqa with Iraq.
On May 17 the Syrian army posted a video on social media. The army claims it shows fighting in Deir al Zor. The pictures show a hospital which, it’s reported was the centre of the fighting after a dawn offensive by the militants according to sate media. ISIL still controls most of Deir al Zor province and and has laid siege to the remaining government areas in the city of the same name.
For their part the Kurdish militias which are a majority component of the Democratic Forces in Syria are also set to launch an offensive from the north of Raqqa. The attack on this stronghold of ISIL is not imminent but they are positioning themselves.