IS hold on Tal Afar almost completely gone

Tal Afar is one of the last IS-held towns in Iraq.

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But after just eight days of fighting, the Iraqi army now controls 90 per cent of the city.

With militants cleared from all but one neighbourhood, celebrations have already begun.

The Iraqi national flag has been raised in the heart of Tal Afar, while soldiers have begun dismantling IS flags across the city.

Lieutenant General Abdul Jabbar, a commander in the Iraqi army’s 16th Division, has dismissed IS’s resistance.

“Today, we have advanced very quickly, because IS has been completely destroyed and our heroes have protected us from their car bombs and broken through their defences.”

Tal Afar is the latest offensive in the United States-backed war against IS, also known as Daesh.

It comes a month after Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, was fully liberated.

US military adviser Lieutenant Colonel James Downing says the operation to recapture Tal Afar, 70 kilometres to the west, has been swift because the militants are weakened now.

“I think a lot of it has to do with, you know, Daesh took a heavy loss in Mosul. And I think they threw a lot of their best fighters and things like that to help defend that location. And so, when you look at what’s different now versus Mosul, I think that’s a big chunk of it.”

In the weeks before the Tal Afar offensive began, up to 90,000 people were still in the city.

While many have fled, the United Nations has estimated 30,000 civilians are trapped.

Local resident Tarfa Hassan says the fighting has been relentless.

“The army has been fighting so much. Today and yesterday, it was very heavy fighting. It was like hell. They didn’t stop all night.”

Many of the civilians who have fled are being sent to displaced-persons camps across the country.

One of those is Rifaa Khilo, who says, if she had stayed, she would have died.

“There was no electricity, no food, nothing to eat. We were almost dying. There was no work and no medicine. My kidneys have almost failed. It has been three years without medicine or anything.”

In recent months, US-backed Iraqi and Syrian forces have advanced against IS on a number of fronts, although militants still control a few towns in Iraq and large areas in Syria.

In an IS enclave at the Syria-Lebanon border, where IS has fought the Lebanese army on one front and Hezbollah and Syrian troops on the other, a ceasefire has now been reached.

It comes as bodies believed to be those of Lebanese soldiers kidnapped by IS three years ago have been found near the border.

Lebanon’s chief of general security, Abbas Ibrahim, says he is waiting for the DNA test results but it is likely they are the bodies of the missing soldiers.

“We will hand over the bodies to the military hospital and await DNA tests. The science will end all doubts.”

The locating of the bodies was part of a deal reached between the Lebanese army and IS that allows militants to be evacuated to eastern Syria.

The Syrian army, along with Hezbollah, also agreed to the deal, declaring a ceasefire in their own attack against IS.

The deals indicate a level of weakness on IS’s part, with Lebanese sources saying the IS fighters have “succumbed under fire and asked for negotiations.”