Iraqi forces evacuate 10,000 civilians in advance against Islamic State


Iraqi forces retook a town from the Islamic State group in Anbar province Thursday and evacuated 10,000 civilians as they advanced up the Euphrates valley, a security spokesman said.

“Counterterrorism forces and army troops liberated the Zankura area in a swift military operation,” Sabah al-Noman, spokesman of the elite Counter-Terrorism Service, told AFP.

“They evacuated 10,000 people who were transferred to a safe area,” he said.

An army colonel in the region said they would be offered first aid and then taken to camps for displaced people.

Zankura lies on a bend in the Euphrates River northwest of Ramadi, capital of Anbar province that Iraqi forces brought under full control last month.

The rural area around 125 km (80 miles) west of Baghdad is on the way to Hit, a town Iraqi forces have declared as their next target.

Noman claimed 80 Islamic State fighters were killed in the operation but gave no figure for casualties in government ranks.

“Our forces also arrested 56 Daesh (Islamic State) members who had shaved their beards and were trying to blend in with the fleeing families,” the spokesman said.

Noman said the Iraqi flag was raised on the highest building in Zankura.

The sprawling province of Anbar — which borders Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia — was at the heart of the “caliphate” that Islamic State proclaimed in 2014.

The jihadi group still holds most of the province but the noose is tightening around some of its key bastions.

The city of Fallujah, 50 km (30 miles) west of Baghdad, is almost completely surrounded by a mix of Iraqi forces.

Federal forces are also pushing down from Salaheddin province towards Haditha, a city in western Anbar that Islamic State never took but has attacked relentlessly since 2014.

The U.S.-led coalition, which has played a significant part in enabling the advance of government troops across Anbar, reported four air strikes in the Ramadi area on Wednesday.

According to the International Organisation for Migration, 44 percent of the more than 3.3 million people displaced in Iraq since the beginning of 2014 are from Anbar.