Iraq on Thursday (August 31st) announced its forces had retaken the Ninawa province city of Tal Afar and the surrounding region in another major victory over the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIS).
Tal Afar was the last major population centre in northern Iraq still under the group’s control and its loss deprives ISIS of what was once a key supply hub between its territory in Syria and Iraq.
"Our happiness is complete, victory has arrived and the province of Ninawa is now entirely in the hands of our forces," said a statement from the office of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
After 12 days of fighting, al-Abadi announced that Tal Afar had "regained its place in the national territory".
The full recapture of Ninawa province comes weeks after Iraqi forces backed by the international coalition ousted ISIS from Mosul, three years after the group declared a "caliphate" straddling Iraq and Syria.
ISIS has lost much of the territory it controlled in the two countries since late 2014, when the international coalition was established.
ISIS fighters in Iraq now control only the city of al-Hawija and a few areas in the desert along the border with Syria.
The group overran Tal Afar in June 2014. At the time, the city had a population of around 200,000, but officials said when the battle to recapture the city was launched on August 20th it was unknown how many remained.
'The end of ISIS in northern Iraq'
The deputy commander of the coalition, British Maj. Gen. Rupert Jones, has said the fall of Tal Afar would spell the end of ISIS in northern Iraq.
"The liberation of this city, and the remainder of Ninawa province, will essentially end ISIS's military presence in northern Iraq," Jones said.
Officials have said the capture of Tal Afar would make it even more difficult for the group to transport fighters and weapons between Iraq and Syria.
ISIS also has suffered major losses in Syria, where the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have retaken more than half of al-Raqa city.
Iraqi authorities are now expected to launch a new offensive against ISIS in al-Hawija, a town in Kirkuk province around 300 kilometres north of Baghdad.