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Security forces launch major operation to clear western desert

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November 23, 2017  

On 23 November, Upper Euphrates and Jazeera Operations Commander Lieutenant General Abdul-Amir Yarallah announced the launch of the second phase of the Upper Euphrates and Jazeera Operation, with the first phase involving the liberation of Rawa in western Anbar. This followed an announcement made by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on 21 November stating he would soon announce the final victory against IS following the completion of operations to liberate the western desert. Areas that will be affected by this operation encompass a large thinly populated desert expanse along the provincial boundaries between Anbar, Salah ad Din, and Nineveh. Operations will be completed once security forces consolidate along the Syrian border, reclaiming the last IS-held territory in Iraq.

The open terrain and other factors will prevent IS from attempting to maintain any semblance of cohesive defensive operations, with initial offensive operations expected to be concluded within weeks as a result. Various explosive threats, logistical challenges presented by lengthy supply lines over rural terrain, and routine refit requirements, are expected to form the primary factors affecting the tempo of operations. Long-term stability operations clearing underground IS cells and other residual threats are expected to prove more challenging than current offensive operations.

Forces initially committed include the 9th Iraqi Army Armored Division, a number of Federal Police and Hashd al-Shaabi units, as well as Hashd al-Ashairi units, supported by Iraqi and Coalition aircraft and artillery. As previously anticipated, major advances were launched along the Hatra front in southern Nineveh, as well as the Siniya front in northwestern Salah ad Din. Further south, limited reporting indicated supporting operations were conducted in rural areas west of Tikrit, which have historically been readably infiltrated by insurgents. Initially absent was complementary advances from fronts in Anbar, with such advances likely to be initiated at later stages of this operation.

Resistance was moderate as anticipated, with several vehicle borne IEDs either interdicted or otherwise rendered safe. No losses were initially reported amongst security forces. Heavy IS losses were reportedly inflicted by Coalition airstrikes, which reportedly target dozens of positions including a number of headquarters, caches, and vehicle borne IED storage facilities. By the afternoon of 23 November, joint security forces seized over a dozen minor population centers along both of the currently active fronts. Some areas reportedly seized were as far south as 70km from Hatra, but most reporting cited advances of roughly 10-20km. Forces advancing along the Hatra and Siniya fronts are expected to increasingly linkup with one another in support of continued cohesive advances.

These operations are expected to be largely transparent for most international organizations due to the rural nature of areas affected. However, increases in military transit along Highway 1 (Route Tampa) remains a consideration for traffic patterns. There is an understandable potential for disruptive attacks along secondary fronts in both Anbar and the Northern Region. IS intent to stage various forms of terrorist attacks in the northern and central region also remains in effect in accordance with current attack patterns.

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