Iraqi forces retake key town of Al-Baghdadi from ISIL

Iraqi security forces launched and offensive south of Tikrit in central Iraq to root out ISIL fighters last week [AP]
Iraqi security forces launched and offensive south of Tikrit in central Iraq to root out ISIL fighters last week [AP]

Iraqi government forces and allied tribal fighters have retaken the town of Al-Baghdadi from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, according to the US military.

A statement from the headquarters of the US-led coalition on Friday said security forces and tribal fighters from the Anbar region had successfully cleared Al-Baghdadi of ISIL fighters, retaking both the police station and three Euphrates River bridges.

The  US-led coalition, which is conducting air strikes in Iraq and Syria against ISIL targets, said it had ordered 26 air strikes around the town since February 22.

ISIL had taken Al-Baghdadi, a small town on the Euphrates River in western Iraq, in February, posing a threat to the nearby Ayn al-Asad air base where US forces train their Iraqi counterparts.

US ground forces were not directly employed in the battle, but “the coalition supported the operation with surveillance assets and advise and assist teams” attached to Iraqi headquarters units.

Iraqi and Kurdish forces, supported by Sunni tribes and Shia armed groups, have begun to push back ISIL forces from a swathe of territory the group seized last year in their quest to build an Islamist “caliphate”.

On February 13, as Al-Baghdadi was falling to ISIL fighters, suicide bombers attacked Iraqi forces protecting the Ayn al-Asad air base, where a small contingent of US troops works with Iraqi allies.

No Americans were hurt in the assault but their relative proximity to the fighting increased fears that US ground troops could find themselves drawn into the conflict.

Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf, reporting from Baghdad, said Friday’s announcement does not come as a surprise.

“The Iraqi military, with the help of coalition air strikes, had already broken the siege of Al-Baghdadi a couple of days ago. What the Americans are announcing now appears to be that they cleared the town of more ISIL fighters, making a few more gains around there,” she said.

“It is a hugely significant town. Significant to the US because of course their troops are at the Ayn al-Asad air base, which is not far from there, and significant to Iraqis because thousands of people from the town were displaced. Some of them had to be evacuated by air by the military after ISIL surrounded the town.

“So this development might not be as dramatic as it might seem.”



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