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Iraq Forces Seize ISIS Outpost Ahead Of Euphrates Push

Baghdad:  Iraqi forces on Saturday captured a desert outpost of the ISIS group near the Syrian border in preparation for a drive up the Euphrates Valley towards the frontier, commanders said.

The capture of Akashat, a former mining town in mainly Sunni Arab Anbar province, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of the jihadists’ border bastion of Al-Qaim, came just hours after the forces assaulted it.

Al-Qaim and the Euphrates towns of Rawa and Anna downstream form just one of two enclaves still held by ISIS in Iraq after a string of battlefield defeats this year.

“The army, the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation force), tribal units and the police captured Akashat,” the Joint Operations Command leading the fight against ISIS said in a statement.

Earlier, JOC head General Abdelamir Yarallah said the operation “to liberate Akashat” was aimed at securing the border to its north.

The Hashed al-Shaabi are a paramilitary force largely composed of Iran-trained Shiite militias but also including some fighters recruited from Sunni tribes.

Iraqi commanders estimate there are no more than 300 civilian families left in Akashat, a former railhead that was once a major source of phosphate production.

Imad Meshaal, mayor of Rutba, a desert town further south recaptured from ISIS last year, told AFP the jihadists had turned the area into a major hub for arms caches, training camps and command centres.

Iraqi commanders say they estimate ISIS still has more than 1,500 fighters in its Al-Qaim enclave.

The jihadists also control a second enclave west of the ethnically divided Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk centred on the mainly Sunni Arab town of Hawija.

A promised offensive against ISIS there has been delayed by a row over a controversial referendum on Kurdish independence planned for later this month.