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Iraq starts bombing Tal Afar in bid to reclaim town from Islamic State group

Mohamed El-Shahed, AFP | Iraqi government forces drive down a road leading to Tal Afar on June 9, 2017, during ongoing battles to retake the city from Islamic State (IS) group fighters.

Iraqi warplanes carried out air strikes Tuesday against Islamic State group positions in Tal Afar in preparation for a ground assault to retake the town near the Syrian border, the military said.

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Tal Afar is the main remaining IS group stronghold in northern Iraq, after the capture by Iraqi forces in July of second city Mosul further east in a major blow to the jihadists.

"Preparations are under way pending instructions from the commander in chief (Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi)" for the launch of the assault, said a spokesman for Iraq's Joint Operation Command (JOC).

The spokesman, Yahiya Rassul, said that although the main offensive to retake Tal Afar had not yet begun, the air force was pounding jihadist positions in the town.

'It means the end of the Caliphate'

Plans to retake Tal Afar were announced on Monday by federal police chief Lieutenant General Raed Shakir Jawdat, who said "armoured and elite units" were headed for the town.

The units, whose number has not been specified, were "regrouping in combat positions in preparation for the next battle," he said in a statement.

Joining them is the Hashed al-Shaabi, a Shiite-dominated coalition of paramilitary units deployed since 2014 to halt the jihadist advance.

"Hashed al-Shaabi commanders met Saturday with army and police commanders to decide on the plan to free Tal Afar," spokesman Ahmed al-Assadi said.

Abadi is expected to announce the launch of the ground assault but there are no indications on when it is due to start.

IS jihadists overran Tal Afar in June 2014, when it had a population of around 200,000.

(AFP)

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