The Iraqi Army and Sunni Tribal Forces have made significant progress against ISIS in the Western Desert, having cleansed the “Desert Triangle” area.
ISIS-held areas in Iraq are now restricted to territories in the western desert. The majority of this area is constituted in Wadi Hauran (The Hauran Valley), which is the largest valley in the country and stretches from the south-western tip of the country (Iraqi-Saudi border) up to the Euphrates River near the town of Haditha, in the north of Anbar province. ISIS has had full control of this valley since 2014.
These operations are being carried out as a counter-insurgency effort rather than a standard military campaign, as a result of the nature of the terrain and the absence of any urban settlement. The last urban settlement that was subject to ISIS rule and has been taken is Rawa in Anbar province.
Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, has stated that once these clearing operations come to a conclusion, he will officially announce the end of ISIS in the country.
The operations, although predominantly led by the Joint Operations Command, also involves the Federal Police and support from the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU).
Advancing from the north are the 40th and 43rd Brigades of the PMU (Kata’ib Imam Ali and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, respectively). From the Northeast, the 9th and 33rd Brigade of the PMU will advance (Liwa Karbala and Quwat Wa’ad Allah, respectively). The 26th Brigade of the PMU (Al Abbas Fighting Division) will advance from the southeast. Meanwhile, the Iraqi army’s 9 th Division, with the support of the 11th, 15thand 44th Brigades of the PMU (Liwa Ali al-Akbar, Quwat Shabaab al-Sadr and Liwa Ansar al-Marjaiya, respectively) will begin the operations from three different points on the wider eastern axis and will be supported by a local PMU group from Baiji led by Sheikh Ali Hajab Qisi. The Federal Police’s 3rd Brigade will also be participating in the operations in a more supporting role.
In Syria, the SDF have recently announced that they have liberated areas in the eastern outskirts of Deir ez-Zour, on the border with Iraq and the Western Desert. This means that ISIS militants will be besieged from all sides by a variety of forces and will thus have difficulty transporting weapons and militia men across the border zones.