Hundreds of additional Iraqi troops are now fighting in the small town of al-Ayadiya, where the remaining Islamic State militants ousted from the adjacent city of Tal Afar entrenched themselves.
The ISIS fighters are losing another significant strategic ground, mere months after being ousted from Mosul. According to the Iraqi forces, the jihadists are putting up a tough fight in a battle that was described by some soldiers as “multiple times worse” than the fighting in Mosul, where Iraqi forces and US-led coalition had fought ISIS for nine months, proclaiming victory in July.
They are under pressure from the military command to finish the battle before the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which begins on Thursday evening. “We will take back al-Ayadiya even if we have to level all houses and buildings used by Daesh (ISIS),” Army Lieutenant Colonel Adnan al-Saidi vowed, while others compared breaching into al-Ayadiya to “opening the gates of hell”, Reuters reported.
During the operation, Peshmerga commanders arrested over 200 militants hiding among civilians – some of the fighters were wearing suicide belts and most of them were unwilling to surrender.
Iraqi army and Federal Police troops, backed by Shi’ite militias, are currently engaged in street fight with militants, which began earlier on Wednesday, and according to commanders, hundreds of jihadists are hiding “inside almost every single house in the town” and firing from these positions.
The urban terrain, where civilians are often used as human shields by jihadists, does not allow Iraqi troops to use heavy artillery, so infantry soldiers have been pushing through with light weapons and grenades. Although thousands of people managed to flee Tal Afar in the recent weeks, the United Nations International Organization for Migration estimates that between 10,000 to 40,000 people are still in the city and surrounding villages, often prevented from leaving by ISIS fighters.
Iraqi forces have recaptured almost all of Tal Afar, but the victory will be declared after seizing al-Ayadiya.