Heavy clashes between Iraqi forces and ISIS are ongoing in al-A’ayaziyah north of Tal Afar. Photo: Rudaw video
The Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi announced that Iraqi armed forces liberated the sub-district of al-A’ayaziyah.
Along with the sub-district, 21 villages and the al-Sasan mountainous range were also liberated from the group after 72 hours of continued fight against the group, from the air and on the ground.
The Iraqi army, Hashd al-Shaabi, Federal Police, Rapid Response, and Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) were all involved in the operations.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraqi forces have retaken eastern areas of al-A’ayaziyah, the sub-district north of Tal Afar where ISIS is putting up a fierce fight, the military announced in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
On the same day a Yezidi woman with her daughter was rescued from the embattled dub-district, reportedly bringing the total number of Yezidis freed from ISIS in the Tal Afar area to 21.
The Federal Police and Rapid Response Force liberated the eastern part of al-A’ayaziyah, raising the Iraqi flag, stated Abdul Amir Rashid Yarallah, commander of the ‘We are Coming Tal Afar’ offensive.
Commanders have described the fight in the area 10 kilometres north of Tal Afar as worse than what they saw in Mosul.
“We thought the battle for Mosul’s Old City was tough, but this one proved to be multiple times worst,” Iraqi officer Colonel Kareem al-Lami told Reuters on Wednesday. “We are facing tough fighters who have nothing to lose and are ready to die.”
Coalition spokesperson Col. Ryan Dillon confirmed to Rudaw on Wednesday that the fight there was difficult. "There's a small pocket to the north — still difficult fighting, but we expect a victory there as well, and that will conclude ISIS' hold on any territory in Nineveh,” he said.
When arriving at the Peshmerga frontline, a young Yezidi survivor took off her face-covering, telling Rudaw that she “was very happy.”
"I was under ISIS for three years," said Nazifa, fully veiled when arrived, adding she was taken captive by ISIS in Hardan area of Shingal on August 3, 2014.
She said she was taken to several areas under the group's control but finally ended up in al-A’ayaziyah.
She was able to escape with the help of her father, standing next to her as she was finally free.
Nazifa said there were “very few” ISIS militants fighting Iraqi joint forces and that continued bombings from warplanes made it very hard for civilians to flee the sub-district.
Rudaw’s footage shows columns of smoke rising into the sky in intense clashes in the sub-district.
Civilians continue to flee to Peshmerga-held territory, according to a Rudaw reporter on the scene.
Civilians are inspected to ensure they are not carrying explosives and then transferred to camps.
More than 3,000 Yezidis are still believed to be under ISIS captivity. A similar number have been rescued since 2014 when ISIS launched a genocidal campaign against the religious minority.
The Iraqi army announced on Sunday that their forces were in full control of Tal Afar, just eight days after the operation to retake the town from ISIS began.
Al-A’ayaziyah remains the last sub-district to be taken from ISIS before the Iraqi military can declare a complete victory over Tal Afar.
While ISIS defenses appeared to melt away in Tal Afar, the Iraqi army has stated that hundreds of fighters have positioned themselves inside most houses and high buildings inside the northern sub-district, making it difficult for their forces to advance.
Al-Lami described breaching ISIS’ first line of defense in al-A’ayaziyah as like “opening the gates of hell.”
Hundreds of ISIS fighters are firing from heavy ma heavy machine guns, mortars, sniper shots and anti-armored projectiles from “every single house,” he detailed.
The Iraqis have increased their airstrikes and brought in reinforcements.
It was announced last week that approximately 50,000 government troops were facing roughly 2,000 battle-hardened fighters defending the Turkmen-majority Tal Afar. Dillon said they were successful in the city because all elements of the Iraqi security forces worked together simultaneously on five different fronts.
He also praised Iraqi security forces’ efforts in evacuating civilians from the area.
Tal Afar served as a key ISIS route between Iraq and Syria since 2014 and was the last major center in northwestern Iraq still controlled by the terrorist group.
Once operations in the Tal Afar area are complete, there will be “less than a handful of ISIS holdouts that remain in Iraq,” said Dillon. He estimates there are fewer than 5,000 ISIS militants remaining in Iraq.
Where the Iraqi forces go next, is up to Baghdad.
Kurdish forces would like to see the operation underway in Hawija. ISIS militants have stepped up their activity against Peshmerga and civilians south of Kirkuk over the summer, resulting in many casualties.
The recent agreement to evacuate ISIS militants from the Lebanon-Syria border to the Syria-Iraqi border, however, has caused alarm in both Baghdad and Erbil. The largest concentration of ISIS militants is in the middle Euphrates River valley running from the Syria-Iraq border to Deir ez-Zor.
Whatever decision is made in Baghdad, the coalition is always “prepared and ready and nimble and flexible. The Iraqi security forces will never have to wait on the coalition,” said Dillon.