08/28/2017, 09.22
IRAQ
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The Iraqi army chases Isis from Tal Afar. Concerns over fate of civilians

In a week the coalition forces have quashed jihadists’ resistance, liberating the city. Now the goal is Al-Ayadieh, 15km, along the road leading to the border with Syria. Activists and NGOs are launching appeals for the protection of the population, dozens of families welcomed in Badush Health Center in precarious conditions.

Baghdad (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Iraqi forces, supported by local Shiite militias and US-led international coalition raids, have defeated the Islamic State (IS, formerly Isis) resistance in Tal Afar, north of the country, liberating the city from the jihadist presence. One week after the offensive, authorities have announced the (almost) complete victory over fundamentalist militias who have lost control of one of the last strongholds in Iraq.

In a note, the leaders of the anti-Isis coalition - Iraqi army, federal police, anti-terrorist forces, and about 20,000 Shiite paramilitary militants (supported by Iran) of Hashed al-Shaabi - demand control of all 29 districts of the city. At the moment, the final clearing of the remaining pockets of jihadist resistance is underway.

Meanwhile, soldiers have already begun to celebrate victory, marking another blow to the Daesh militia [Arabic acronym for IS] in Iraq after the "liberation" of Mosul. Pro-government militias  paraded through the city's streets aboard the tanks, waving flags and showing victory marks. IS banners and signposts were removed from the buildings and checkpoints set up by the fighters.

Tal Afar's rapid fall is a further, fierce hit by the army to the Islamic militia, which until a few months ago controlled much of northern Iraq and the eastern sector of Syria. The city is located along the route that links Mosul to the Syrian border and is an important crossroads of men and women in the region.

The official announcement of the victory should arrive by 2 September, the day of the beginning of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha (the "Sacrificial Festival") in Iraq. Now the next target in the area is the town of Al-Ayadieh, about 15km north of Tal Afar, also located along the road leading to the border with Syria.

Most of the more than 200,000 people in Tal Afar abandoned the city in 2014, concurrently with the arrival of the first militia of the Islamic State. Originally it was inhabited by Shi'ite Turkmen, considered "heretics" by Sunni Islamic fundamentalists. As with Mosul, fears of the Tal Afar battle involved the fate of thousands of civilians trapped in the city and unable to escape. Coalition estimates reported about 50,000 people locked inside, were used by jihadists as human shields.

In the battles that fought in the past few days, at least 162 people died, ten were injured. Soldiers also found a mass grave in a suburban area of ​​the city, which contained the bodies of 80 people, mostly civilians.

And it is precisely the fate of the local population that concerns activists and human rights activists in the area. In a note, the leaders of Oxfam, coordinating interventions in the area, ask the Iraqi government to ensure civilians safe and urgent delivery of aid. Tens of people fleeing from the fighting found shelter in Badush health center, about 60 miles east of Tal Afar: "The little ones – reported an NGO spokesman - were covered with dirt and very thin, they crossed hell to arrive up to here. Families tried to stay united, mothers kept their children, some newborns close to them. They were all exhausted and traumatized by the terrifying experience. " (DS)

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