Kurds Suspend Elections, Withdraw to “Pre-ISIS” Borders

Members of Iraqi federal forces are seen in Dibis area on the outskirts of Kirkuk

Erbil, Baghdad, London– Kurdish Peshmerga forces retreated to positions they had held in northern Iraq in June 2014 in response to an Iraqi army advance into the region after a Kurdish independence referendum, a senior Iraqi commander said on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish regional electoral commission halted on Wednesday preparations for the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled to be held on November 1 due to the current crisis in Kirkuk province and lack of candidates.

In a statement released, the regional Independent High Electoral and Referendum Commission (IHERC) said it decided to suspend the preparations for the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections due to the recent violence in Kirkuk and other disputed territories.

An Iraqi military statement said government forces had taken control of Kurdish-held areas of Nineveh province, including Mosul and the hydro-electric dam.

On Monday, Iraqi forces recaptured the major oil city of Kirkuk to the south shortly after the Peshmerga abandoned it.

Reuters pointed out that Bashiqa residents celebrated in the streets the retreat of Peshmerga and their replacement by Iraqi Troops.

Backed by the US, Peshmerga forces drove ISIS out of the area and gained control over several areas outside of official and semi-independent border of Kurdistan, including Kirkuk which Kurds demand to include as part of their sovereignty.

Peshmerga had advanced into Nineveh and the Kirkuk region over the past three years as part of the war against ISIS militants, filling a void left by a temporary collapse of the Iraqi army in the face of an ISIS onslaught.

“As of today we reversed the clock back to 2014,” the Iraqi army commander, who spoke on condition of animosity, told Reuters.

DW Germany news agency reported Iraqi sources saying that clashes erupted between the Iraqi army and Peshmerga forces near Mahmoudiyyah town, northwest of Mosul.

Sources told the agency that an army unit arrived in the town without any prior coordination with Peshmerga which led to the clashes, but commander of west Nineveh operations Lieutenant Karim Shweili arrived in the area and contained the situation.

Meanwhile, Rudaw agency posted a video that has been widely shared on social media showing a young man jumping on a vehicle of the Iraqi police force in Kirkuk. Although the vehicle was moving, the young man was able to take the Iraqi flag down.

The young man was part of a group of people who protested Iraqi forces’ presence.

In addition, a video circulated on social media showing a member of Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) standing before photos of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei hung on the wall of the Kirkuk governorate’s building. The video angered Kirkuk civilians who refused such actions.

The fighter said that PMF have now taken over the shelters of Peshmerga.

“We reclaimed Kirkuk. Are you not ashamed? Where are the men? Did you not say “we are men coming from Erbil and Sulaimani to preserve Kirkuk and Kirkuk is ours”? Where are you?,” he said.

He also confirmed: “I am now in Kirkuk. We are now inside the governorate’s building.”

PMF and Iraqi forces controlled Kirkuk and nearby areas after Peshmerga forces retreated from it. Commander of Tigris operations Maj-Gen Ali Fadil Amraa told DW that security work within Kirkuk is restricted to local police.

DW also reported a security source saying the Directorate of National Security in Kirkuk had apprehended several persons who claimed they belonged to PMF, searching houses in the city, after which security forces and police toured the Kurdish areas to assures civilians.

Streets between Kirkuk and Erbil were crowded with Kurdish residents who continued to flee Kirkuk, fearing abuse or arrests. Large numbers have headed towards Sulaimania.

Kurdish member of Iraqi parliament Renas Jano believes that the incidents in Kirkuk aim at targeting the strong position of Kurdistan.

Jano told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that Iran entered Kirkuk aiming to weaken Peshmerga capabilities to an extent they can’t do anything in the post-ISIS era.

He explained that real changes will happen after ISIS has been terminated, and stated that after the decision of US concerning the nuclear deal, Iran is trying to fully control Iraq. He believes Tehran wants to do so for two reasons: compensate the financial losses of wars in Syria and Yemen through Iraqi oil, and overcome human losses it suffered during the war in Syria by employing other forces in Iraq like the PMF.

Jano considered the incidents occurring in Kirkuk a genocide against its civilians.

Meanwhile, head of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Kirkuk Aso Mamand announced that he was informed by the Iraqi forces that the city council would convene on Thursday to select a new governor.

He told reporters on Wednesday that some PMF fighters have stormed Kurdish houses, but described the situation as generally “calm.”

In addition, Vice president of Kurdistan and deputy leader of PUK Kosart Rasul Ali warned in a statement that what is happening is another Anfal against Kurds, in reference to a similar campaign they suffered in Baghdad during the residency of late President Saddam Hussein.

“Some apostates abandoned the PUK’s doctrine without returning to our party’s leadership and became the invaders’ assistant to obtain some personal, temporary gains. With this disgusting act, they are slipping themselves into the black pages of the history of our nation, humiliated,” he added.

Iraqi Army Retakes Central Hawija from ISIS

Shi'ite Popular Mobilization Forces and Iraqi army members gather on the outskirts of Hawija

Iraqi forces have captured Hawija and the encompassing territory from ISIS, however some battles still raged in a pocket toward the north and east of the town where the militants were surrounded, the military said on Thursday.

Hawija, where tens of thousands of civilians live, has been under the militant group’s control since 2014.

With the capture of Hawija, the militants’ last stronghold in northern Iraq, ISIS will be left controlling only a stretch of land along the border with Syria.

On Wednesday, the Iraqi army said it had killed 196 ISIS militants and recaptured 98 villages around Hawija, located near the Kurdish-held oil city of Kirkuk.

“The army’s 9th armored division, the Federal Police, the Emergency Response division and (..) Popular Mobilization liberated Hawija,” said a statement from the joint operations commander, Lieutenant-General Abdul Ameer Rasheed Yarallah.

The offensive on Hawija was carried out by US-backed Iraqi government troops and Shi‘ite paramilitary groups known as Popular Mobilization.

The capture of Hawija brings them into direct contact with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters who control Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic region claimed by both Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Kirkuk shaped up as a flashpoint last month when the KRG included the city in a referendum on Kurdish independence in northern Iraq.

Iraq launched its offensive on Sept. 21 to dislodge ISIS from the Hawija area, where up to 78,000 people were estimated to be trapped, according to the United Nations.

The UN said on Tuesday that an estimated 12,500 people had fled Hawija since the launch of the offensive to retake the town and surrounding areas last month.

It said humanitarian agencies have set up checkpoints, camps and emergency sites capable of receiving more than 70,000 people who could flee.

The militants continue to control the border town of al-Qaim and the region surrounding it. They also hold parts of the Syrian side of the border, but the area under their control is shrinking as they retreat in the face of hostile forces.

ISIS’ cross-border “caliphate” effectively collapsed in July, when US-backed Iraqi forces captured Mosul, the group’s de facto capital in Iraq, in a grueling battle which lasted nine months.

The militants’ leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who declared the caliphate from Mosul in mid-2014, released an audio recording last week that indicated he was alive, after several reports he had been killed.

He called on his followers to keep up the fight despite the setbacks.

Iraq Faces Vast Challenges despite Victories over ISIS

Baghdad- Iraq’s victory over ISIS in Tal Afar was the latest in a string of gains against the group, but Iraqi forces still face massive challenges, experts say.

In 2014, as ISIS staged a rapid advance across northern Iraq, police and military personnel abandoned their posts to the militants with barely a fight.

That allowed the group to seize territory in parts of Syria and a third of Iraq’s territory including second city Mosul.

Today, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who took office three months after the 2014 military debacle, says the Iraqi state is back, stronger and better organized.

Under the Shi’ite premier’s command and backed by a US-led multinational coalition, Iraqi forces have retaken Tikrit, Ramadi, Fallujah and in July, after a grueling nine-month battle, Mosul.

“Our battle plans are now being taught in military academies, including tactics for urban guerrilla warfare and demining,” interior ministry spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan told Agence France Presse.

Andrew A. Croft, deputy commander of the US-led coalition, praised Iraqi forces for their achievements.

“The fight would have challenged almost any army in the world. The fact that the Iraqis could do it has given their security forces additional confidence,” he told AFP.

“They have shown themselves to be capable to maneuver against ISIS in all locations in Iraq.”

During the fight for Mosul, described by an American general in Baghdad as “the toughest urban battle since World War II”, Iraqi troops suffered heavy losses.

But they have now forced ISIS out of all its Iraqi territories except the town of Hawija, 300 kilometers north of Baghdad, and a few pockets of territory near the border with Syria.

In doing so, they have repaired some of the damage done three years ago and regained “the confidence of their fellow citizens and internationally”, said Jassem Hanoun, an Iraqi military expert.

But Iraq’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari warned on August 26 that “victory in Iraq will not mean an end to the danger posed by ISIS”.

He said Iraq would continue its military cooperation with the coalition, saying it needed “preventive security” against “terrorist cells working in the shadows”.

Hanoun said ISIS would likely go back to its “original mode of operation”, attacking targets such as residential districts and markets.

But a lack of coordination and organization means the security services struggle to cope with such attacks, he said.

The question of whether and how the coalition will continue to operate in Iraq is a hot political topic both for Baghdad and for Washington, which in 2011 finally withdrew its troops eight years after leading an invasion of the country.

Cooperation with the US poses a pressing dilemma: what will become of the Popular Mobilization Forces dominated by groups backed by Iran?

Most Shi’ite leaders call for PMF, currently under the command of the prime minister, to remain in its current form.

According to Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, professor of international history at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, the PMF “is only the most recent version of a national politico-security configuration that has been combined with a sectarian component since 2003”, he said.

The Iraq specialist said the PMF’s existence was an “admission of the failure of an army trained by US administrations at great financial and material cost over 14 years.”

Clashes Intensify in Tal Afar as Liberation Comes Near


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.

Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces Cross into Syria with Heavy Weapons

Beirut, Moscow- Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) once again entered Syrian territories, a few hours after a regime military delegation visited Baghdad and following the US deployment of two rocket launchers in al-Tanf military camp at the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian border.

El-Dorar al-Shamiya news network wrote on Thursday: “The Iraqi Popular Mobilization militia launched a fierce attack on ISIS areas at the border villages of southeastern Hasaka.”

The news network said heavy and medium weapons were used in the fighting.

“The shelling hit a commercial market in the village of Tal al-Jariah,” El-Dorar said.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the PMF has been present at the border for the past several months.

But, the Observatory said that these forces have not yet received from Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi the green light to infiltrate Syria, except when the PMF entered two villages for a couple of hours before pulling back.

“The PMF deliberately attacks ISIS areas south of al-Hasaka and at the northeastern border of Deir Ezzor, trying to advance towards the northeast of al-Tanf to meet with Hezbollah and al-Nujaba militias coming from the Homs desert,” the Observatory said.

It added that for the first time in several weeks, regime warplanes pounded on Thursday the neighborhood of Jawbar al-Dimashqui, the last opposition bastion east of the capital.

President of al-Rutbah district Imad al-Dalimi announced that “sections from the Iraqi border guards and al-Hashd al-Ashaeri arrived during the last 24 hours to the outskirts of al-Waleed border gate with Syria.”

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that his country plans to boost the capacities of the Syrian regime forces, which would allow Russian forces to relocate to their bases inside the country. The president also said the Russian army received “priceless” experiences from participating in the military operations in Syria.

Iraq’s PMF Tests Coalition, Putin Fears Division


Beirut, Moscow – Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMF) known as al-Hashed al-Shaabi, infiltrated for hours on Thursday night in regions east Syria, a move considered as testing the International Coalition, which provides a cover for Arab and Kurdish fighters in the area.

PMF’s Spokesperson Ahmed al-Asadi denied that his forces had crossed into Syria after the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed on Thursday that the PMF forces had entered one village in the Hasaka province for a short time, then withdrew.

Syria’s Al-Khabour news channel reported that the PMF had controlled on Thursday morning the two villages of Qusayba and Bawaridi, southeast of Hasaka after a surprising withdrawal of ISIS militants from the area. The news channel estimated that the PMF have crossed the Syrian border at a depth of 10 km.

Several reports said on Thursday that leader of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards had visited the Syrian-Iraqi borders, where he headed a meeting between the PMF, Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the Syrian army, representatives from “Hezbollah’s” militia and officials from the Revolutionary Guards that lead the Iranian-backed militias in Syria and Iraq.

Separately, Doctors Without Borders MSF in France said on Thursday that about 800 people are arriving every day in Ain Issa, located within 3 km of Raqqa. MSF also said about 10,000 civilians have fled to a camp just north of the city.

For its part, Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that three motorcades left Raqqa under the cover of darkness and took several routes southward on the night of May 29 to 30.

The ministry said the Russian Aerospace Forces hit the detected targets and was capable to kill more than 80 ISIS militants.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that he feared a division in Syria.

“Does the possible division of Syria arouse concern? It certainly does,” he said at a meeting at the Constantine Palace on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

PMF Launches New Offensive West of Mosul Near Syria Border

Baghdad, Mosul- Popular Mobilization Forces launched on Friday an operation to retake the Iraqi neighborhood of al-Qayrawan, west of Mosul, a hub for ISIS on the border with Syria.

“Our operations were launched at 5:00 am on several fronts … The aim is to head west” towards Syria’s border, the deputy chief of the PMF committee Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis said on Friday.

Yahya Rasool, Iraqi army spokesman for the Joint Military Command, told Agence France Presse that the PMF’s operation would be backed by Iraqi military air power.

Asked about the new offensive’s objective, Rasool said: “We should liberate the important areas that are linked to the Syrian border.”

He also expected the operation to be quick because ISIS is losing strength.

The PMF, which has retaken hundreds of villages southwest of Mosul, advanced from five fronts towards towns near al-Qayrawan and exchanged in bloody battles with extremists.

Al-Qayrawan links Nineveh province with the Syrian border, where the jihadists use as a supply route.

According to the German News Agency, the PMF command said its units are encircling al-Qayrawan from the southern, northern and eastern directions in preparation for storming it.

In the process, the Iraqi air force, which is providing air power to the PMF units, destroyed several booby-trapped vehicles. The PMF also blew up two explosive-laden vehicles and killed six militants in the liberated village of Umm al-Shababik.

Signs of Regional and Local Conflicts in Iraq’s Tal Afar

Baghdad– The Iraqi government has received a message from the US embassy concerning the liberation of Tal Afar, Iranian news agency, IRNA, reported, but Nineveh MP Sajida al-Afandi said the move has political motives aiming to pressure the government to allow the participation of Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in the liberation of the city.

Afandi said it seems that Iran received a message from their “friends” the PMF stating that the Iraqi government wouldn’t allow their forces to enter Tal Afar, west of Mosul.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Afandi said that most agreements before and after the operations began in Nineveh generally state that PMF factions are not allowed into the cities and should remain on the outskirts.

Earlier on Saturday, IRNA quoted an Iraqi source, whom it described as “senior” as saying that the Iraqi government received a message from the US embassy in Baghdad urging it “to suspend the military offensive in Tal Afar and not liberating the town from ISIS” claiming that the Turkish troops could bombard the Iraqi forces.

Observers believe several signs indicate a possible local and regional clashes in Tal Afar as security forces are close on completely liberating it from ISIS.

Afandi agreed with analysts stating that Iran aims to establish a passage from Diyala governorate passing through Nineveh district and Tal Afar all the way to Syria.

She hoped Tal Afar wouldn’t become a city of struggle between Iran and Turkey.

The MP expressed belief that Tal Afar’s liberation would be very difficult given that it is the last area in Iraq which ISIS still holds, and the terrorist organization would forcefully try to maintain it under its control.

Yet, she said the entry of PMF into the city would complicate matters especially that the forces had previously threatened the citizens of Tal Afar, the majority of whom are Turkmen divided between Sunnis and Shi’ites.

Shortly after the Iranian agency reported the news, the Iraqi government commented on the matter through its General Secretariat and not the council of ministers.

The secretariat issued a statement denying Iranian reports that the Trump Administration had asked the Iraqi government to suspend an offensive to retake Tal Afar from ISIS.

“The reports carried by an Iranian news agency are baseless and there is no US message to the Iraqi government regarding Tal Afar,” it said.

Nineveh MP Abdul Rahman al-Louwayzi said political causes were delaying the initiation of the Tal Afar liberation which had been scheduled to start 12 days ago. He explained that it was first postponed due to weather conditions, but later it was put on hold and the decision turned into liberating al-Hadar area.

It is possible that Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi postponed the liberation of Tal Afar for not wanting to complicate things further, Louwayzi told Asharq Al-Awsat.

He said Abadi wants to avoid a war in areas witnessing political differences.

The Nineveh MP believes there is an exchange of roles between Turkey and US concerning Tal Afar. He stated that civilians in disputed areas have limited options, saying the involvement of PMF created some sort of balance between Arabs and forces backed by Erbil and Turkey.

On Sunday, Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jubouri discussed with the elders and sheikhs of Tal Afar tribes the status of the judiciary and the means to find appropriate solutions after liberation from ISIS.

He urged the tribes to sign an agreement which includes procedures that protect relations between them.

“Your parents and grandparents have lived together in this city, united in the face of dangers and challenges, sharing the joys of being a family and a single house,” Jabouri told the elders.

Jabouri suggested either resorting to tribal and social solutions which are agreed on between local officials or relying on the judicial system.

“We realize the sensitivity of the situation in Tal Afar and believe an initiative to reunite all tribes and form an agreement between them is a necessity now. It is important to establish a formula that guarantees all entities in this city would live in cohesion,” he added.

Iraq: Sadr Tells Supporters to Carry on the Torch Even if he is Killed

Baghdad- Top Shi’ite cleric in Iraq and leader of the Baghdad-based Sadrist movement Moqtada al-Sadr has warned, without naming a specific side, that his life is under serious threat.

Speaking to thousands of supporting demonstrators on Friday, Sadr urged the crowd and the movement to push further with what he called a “reform revolution,” even in the unfortunate event of his death.

In a clear sign of his concern over the greed of rival factions in the “Popular Mobilization Forces,” the leader of the Sadrist movement called on the Iraqi army to take the reigns over all military initiatives, demanding that only army units control areas liberated from the terror group ISIS.

“It is necessary to support the Iraqi army and security forces to complete their victories in the usurped areas,” Sadr told his followers at the rally in Baghdad as the demonstrators waved Iraqi flags and chanted support for their leader.

“They should be the only ones that hold ground after liberating it – no others, whether the occupier, foreign forces or others,” he said.

“If I was assassinated, then that would be a sacrifice for Iraq … and that is not far-fetched,” Sadr said.

Political analysts believe that Sadr’s fears are more political. They say he is concerned about rival Shi’ite militias gaining strength by taking ground in the north.

Baghdad-based political analyst Ahmed Younis said Sadr’s speech was a clear message to Shi’ite rivals.

“It’s quite a clear message for other Shi’ite armed groups not to take on the role of government forces and control lands under the pretext of fighting ISIS. Moqtada is trying to draw a line in the sand for his rivals,” he said.

Sadr, whose opinion holds sway over tens of thousands of Shi’ites -including fighters who battled US troops in 2006-7 – also threatened to boycott upcoming parliamentary elections.

He accused Iraq’s Election Commission of bias toward some parties.

The cleric is calling for a new commission and a review of the current election law, saying it allows influential parties to maintain their grip on power.

Iraqi Security Forces Storm Mosul Airport


U.S.-backed Iraqi security forces closing in on the ISIS-held western half of Mosul attacked the city’s main airport and a nearby military base, state television stated.

Counter-terrorism service (CTS) troops and elite interior ministry units known as Rapid Response descended towards the airport early on Thursday.

“Our forces started a major operation early this morning to storm the airport of Mosul and the Ghozlani base to dislodge ISIS terrorists. We can confirm that the Mosul airport militarily has fallen and it’s a matter of short time to fully control it,” CTS spokesman Sabah al-Numan told state TV.

The advances come days after Iraqi forces officially launched the operation to drive ISIS out of Mosul’s western half.

The operation to recapture Iraq’s second largest city kicked off in October. In January its eastern half was announced as “fully liberated.”

Loss of Mosul will be the end of the Iraqi side of ISIS’s alleged “caliphate.”

The U.S.-led coalition has been a great support in backing Iraqi forces with air strikes and advisers on the ground.

On Thursday U.S. forces in armored vehicles were moving on the airport with Iraqi forces.

“We will reach it today God willing,” Brigadier General Abbas al-Juburi of the Rapid Response force stated to AFP just over a kilometre (less than a mile) from the airport.

According to military officials, Forces have made very quick advances since the start of the year, aided by new tactics and improved coordination.