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Clashes Intensify in Tal Afar as Liberation Comes Near | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Shi’ite fighters ride on a tank heading toward the airport of Tal Afar during a battle with ISIS militants in Tal Afar west of Mosul, Iraq, November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer

Erbil, Ankara – Despite international requests that Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) do not participate in Tal Afar liberation operation, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi reiterated on Saturday that popular and tribal forces will be part of that.

Speaking at a youth meeting, Abadi said his government has set a plan for dislodging ISIS from Tal Afar, west of Mosul.

“The campaign will be launched with the participation of all factions of the Iraqi armed forces, including PMF,” he added.

Abadi did not say to what extent PMF would participate in the liberation of the town or how involved they would be.

He added that the Iraqi nation, through complete commitment to its unity, could overcome sectarian and ethnic divisions.

“The entire world is breathing a sigh of relief now that Iraqis have chopped ISIS head off. The international community threw its weight behind Iraq in the fight against terrorism, because it found the Iraqi nation full of determination to battle ISIS,” Abadi pointed out.

Since the launch of liberation operations of Mosul in October, PMF headed towards Tal Afar and besieged the town but wasn’t able to enter it and thus postponed its liberation until after Mosul.

Several ISIS commanders and their families managed to escape from Tal Afar into Syria after they managed to create a path for hours during which dozens of their cars headed towards Syrian territories.

Tal Afar is top priority due to its proximity to the Syrian border and provincial capital of the Nineveh governorate. Iran is trying to control it through its affiliated militias in Iraq to expand its control on the road linking between Iraq and Syria.

Over the past years, Iranian regime has been working on establishing a road between Tehran and Damascus to transport troops and weapons to make sure Assad remains in power.

Iran managed to maintain its side of the border, but controlling Tal Afar will ensure it has full control over the northwestern border between Baghdad and Damascus.

Turkey voiced its concerns about the participation of Shi’ite dominated PMF, because Turkey does not want the Iraqi campaign to drive ISIS from Tal Afar to change the ethnic composition of the region.

Ankara threatened of using power if the PMF enters the area.

Turkman Shi’ite MP from Tal Afar Mohammed Taqi al-Mawla told Asharq Al-Awsat on July 13 that the Turkish ambassador to Baghdad informed him of Turkey’s support for the liberation of Tal Afar and has no problem in the entry of the Turkmen forces to the city.”

He said that the ambassador conveyed his country’s readiness to participate in reconstructing Tal Afar after expelling ISIS militants and the consent of the Iraqi government.

On July 20, Turkish Presidential Spokesperson Ambassador Ibrahim Kalin said in a press briefing that Tal Afar is another critical stop within the framework of the fight against ISIS. Currently Iraqi national forces are conducting operations towards Tal Afar.

“We would like to once again underline the importance of the Iraqi national forces entering Tal Afar and not letting PMF enter there,” he stressed.

Turkish sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Ankara has not changed its position on PMF participation and informed the Iraqi government about that. It has been confirmed that Turkey will not remain silent on the matter.

Earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the Iran-affiliated organization PMF as a “terrorist” entity

Nineveh Guards spokesperson and Senior member of the provincial council in Nineveh province Zuhair al-Jabbouri said that Iraqi army, Counter Terrorism Units, and federal police will lead the liberation operation of Tal Afar, and PMF and tribal forces will only be on the outer areas of the region.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Jabbouri pointed out that Tal Afar liberation will not be more difficult that the liberation of Old City in Mosul.

There are about 2,500 ISIS militants in Tal Afar, according to Iraqi security forces information.

ISIS took control over Tal Afar in June 2014 and it is considered a stronghold for the terrorist organization.