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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Iraq PM ready to liberate last ISIL haven in Nineveh

Mr Al Abadi said a plan had been formulated to liberate the town of Tal Afar and stressed that foreign militants arrested by security forces would be held equally as accountable as home-grown extremists

Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadi is ready to liberate ISIL’s last haven in Nineveh amid rising concerns that Shiite militias who were accused of torture and killings in Sunni-majority cities, might enter the city along with the Iraqi army.

Speaking during a weekly conference in Baghdad, Mr Al Abadi said a plan had been formulated to liberate the town of Tal Afar and stressed that foreign militants arrested by security forces would be held equally as accountable as home-grown extremists.

“We will not exclude foreign terrorists detained by our security forces from the law,” Mr Al Abadi said.

While the battle for Mosul is over, the war against ISIL is far from complete. Although the militants have lost about 60 per cent of the territory they controlled, they remain present in some parts of Iraq.

Meanwhile, the US- led global coalition against ISIL has continued to provide air strikes on Mosul city, although the Iraqi government declared victory three weeks ago.

"We are not going to wait for ISIL to dig in to Tal Afar," US coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon said on Sunday.

Located approximately 60 kilometres west of Mosul and the borders with Turkey and Syria, Tal Afar has been under ISIL’s control since mid-2014.

Victory in the town, where the majority of the population — both Shia and Sunni — is ethnically Turkmen, would mean the loss of one of its most important strongholds for ISIL.

Within Iraq, it is acknowledged that ISIL's control over Tal Afar is particularly brutal.

However it is feared that the forthcoming battle to retake the town will ignite sectarian tensions in the future, as it is one of the few towns in northern Iraq with a sizeable Shiite population.

The Iraqi parliament approved a bill earlier this month recognising ISIL’s persecution of both Sunni and Shia Turkmens in Tal Afar as a “massacre”.

While Tal Afar has been surrounded by Shiite militias since the beginning of the battle to retake Mosul, Turkey has long opposed involving those militias in the liberation of Tal Afar on the grounds that ISIL is likely to inflict terrible reprisals on the Turkmen population and thus ignite further sectarian divisions.

On Monday, militia spokesman Ahmed Al Assadi said they would participate in the military campaign for Tal Afar along with the Iraqi army and police forces.

Whether that is the case is unclear but the Shiite militias have already been accused of abuses against the Sunni population in areas recaptured by Iraqi government forces.

Besides Tal Afar, ISIL still dominates in parts of Kirkuk, in western Anbar province and in areas bordering the provinces of Diyala and Salahuddin in eastern Iraq