Iraq announces recapture of western town from ISIL
BAGHDAD – Agence France-PresseIraq announced May 19 that its forces have recaptured the western town of Rutba which had been held by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) since 2014.
“The Joint Operations Command announces the complete liberation of the Rutba district,” it said in a statement.
Special forces, soldiers and police took part in the operation, the statement said.
Iraqi forces launched the drive to retake Rutba, located in western Anbar province along the main road to Jordan, on May 16.
ISIL overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in June 2014, and later made further advances in Anbar, seizing its capital Ramadi in 2015.
Iraqi forces have since regained significant ground from the jihadists, securing the Ramadi area earlier this year and retaking the town of Heet last month.
But parts of Anbar - including its second city Fallujah - are still under ISIL control, as is most of Nineveh province, to its north.
The U.S.-led coalition, which provided air support for the Rutba operation, stopped short of saying the town was under the full control of Iraqi forces.
Asked if there were still ISIL fighters in the area, coalition spokesman Steve Warren said: “There’s still quite an amount.”
In the course of the operation, Iraqi forces encountered “light to moderate resistance,” he told AFP.
Rutba is a remote desert town, several hours away from Anbar’s major cities, but Warren expressed confidence the Iraqi forces would successfully hold it.
“They’ve got enough fighters, they’ve got tribal forces there, they’ll hold it just like they’ve held every single other thing they’ve taken,” he said.
In a briefing to Pentagon reporters on May 18, Warren described Rutba as a small town with “outsized strategic value.”
“Rutba lies on the main route between Baghdad and Jordan, and opening it will impact the economies of both Iraq and Jordan, and will deny [ISIL] a critical support zone as well,” he said.
Meanwhile, nine Iraqi soldiers were killed and nine more wounded on May 18 when a house rigged with explosives blew up south of Baghdad during a raid of suspected ISIL militants, two army sources said, according to Reuters.
The army unit was responding to intelligence on a possible meeting of high-profile militant leaders at the house in Latifiya, 40 kilometers south of the capital, the sources said.
More than 170 people have been killed in blasts claimed by ISIL in and around Baghdad over the past week, including at least 77 in three attacks on May 17, in the deadliest spate of attacks in the city so far this year.
In a separate incident in Latifiya on May 18, an army officer was killed and three soldiers were wounded when a roadside bomb struck their Humvee, the army sources said.