The military said fighting continues in Al Ayadiya, where ISIL fighters who fled the district’s city centre were hiding out
Tal Afar: Iraq forces wait for fighting to stop in small area before declaring victory
Iraqi forces have retaken all 29 districts of Tal Afar from ISIL but are waiting for fighting to stop in a small area 11 kilometres northwest of the city before declaring complete victory in the offensive.
The military said fighting continues in Al Ayadiya, where extremists who fled the district’s city centre were hiding out.
Tal Afar was the latest objective in the US-backed war on ISIL following the recapture in July of Mosul, where it declared its self-proclaimed caliphate over parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
The offensive on Tal Afar, which lies on the supply route between Syria and the former ISIL stronghold of Mosul, started on August 20. Up to 2,000 militants were believed to be defending the city against around 50,000 attackers, according to Iraqi and western military sources.
Such a quick collapse of ISIL in the city, which has been a breeding ground for extremist groups, would confirm Iraqi military reports that the militants lack command and control structures west of Mosul.
Residents who fled Tal Afar days before the start of the offensive told Reuters that the militants looked "exhausted" and "depleted".
Iraqi foreign minister Ibrahim Al Jafari said on Saturday the Iraqi forces have expelled 80 per cent of ISIL fighters from Tel Afar.
“Hopefully, the remaining area will soon be liberated,” he said in a press conference in Baghdad.
Tens of thousands of people are also believed to have fled in the weeks before the battle started. Remaining civilians were threatened with death by the militants, according to aid organisations and residents who managed to leave.
The Counter Terrorism Units in Iraq announced they had taken back 95 per cent of the areas occupied in Tal Afar by ISIL.
The chief command for the operation, code named “We’re Coming Tal Afar,” Abdul Amir Yarallah said on Sunday that the forces have all but taken the city, expelling ISIL forces from all of their former command zones.
Clutching his Kalashnikov near the front lines in Tal Afar after his unit retook his home neighbourhood from ISIL, Iraqi Turkmen fighter Abbas Yussef smiled, saying: "I can't describe my joy when I saw my house again."
"I can't describe how it felt to take it back, a gun in my hand."
Three years ago, ISIL seized nearly one third of Iraq, including Tal Afar, in a sweeping offensive that forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, and Yusef was among them.
It is estimated that around 180,000 people fled Tal Afar leaving only 10,000 to 20,000 people left in the city at the time the offensive was launched, according to US military estimates.
Tal Afar has experienced cycles of sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and has produced some of ISIL's most senior commanders.
Mosul's liberation effectively marked the end of ISIL in Iraq but the terrorist organisation still controls some parts of the Syrian-Iraqi border.
The next target for Iraqi forces is the city Hawija, located between Mosul and Baghdad.