The strategic importance of newly liberated Hawija

The Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has officially announced the liberation of Hawija from ISIS militants, three years after the group overran the town. On the 4th October, the Iraqi Federal Police, Rapid Response Forces and the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) stormed the town of Hawija. After a few hours of heavy fighting, the Joint Operations Command announced that the entire town had come under the control of the Iraqi forces.

The town is located along two major roads which connect Baghdad with both the province of Nineveh and the Kurdistan Region. Hawija is the last ISIS stronghold in northern Iraq and was occupied in 2014.

Hawija served as a strategically important base for IS to launch attacks on major cities in the town’s immediate vicinity. Small splinter operations were often launched by the group on Kirkuk, Baghdad as well as towns and cities in the Diyala province and the group relied on Hawija as a base to launch these attacks.

The liberation of Hawija means that ISIS presence will be limited to areas in western Anbar such as al-Rawa and al-Qaim. However, a military operation is currently underway to liberate these areas including the Iraq-Syria border.

Now that the group has been expelled from all major towns and cities in central and northern Iraq, the threat that these major areas faced will likely be diminished. As ISIS loses more control over urban areas in Iraq, the group will go underground and begin to adopt irregular warfare and guerrilla tactics in order to give itself time to recover before trying to capture any territory.

This latest success will also serve as a significant political victory for the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi Prime Minister in time for the elections next year. The end of ISIS will help affirm the credibility of the Iraqi state and could deal a significant blow to militant jihadist ambitions in the country for years to come.