Iraq drives ISIL from one of last strongholds

The Associated Press

Women and children from Hawija sit outside a Kurdish screening center in Dibis, Iraq, on Tuesday.

The Associated Press BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Thursday that Iraqi forces have driven the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant group from one of the extremists’ last strongholds in the country, the northern town of Hawija.

The victory came as Baghdad and Iraq’s Kurdish region remain in a political deadlock following a controversial Kurdish independence referendum. But on the battlefield Iraqi and Kurdish forces continue to collaborate, squeezing the jihadis who once controlled nearly a third of the country.

Abadi made the declaration at a news conference in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron, who has offered to help mediate between Iraq’s government and the autonomous Kurdish region, which voted for independence last week.

“I want to announce the liberation of the city of Hawija today,” Abadi said, calling it a “victory not just for Iraq but for the whole world.”

Still, Abadi’s government is struggling to contain the fallout from the independence vote, which, while not binding or expected to lead to the formation of a Kurdish state anytime soon, was rejected as illegal by the Baghdad government as well as neighboring Turkey and Iran.

Iraq’s central government has imposed a flight ban on the Kurdish region, while Turkey and Iran have sent troops to the land-locked region’s borders to signal their opposition to any redrawing of the map.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday appeared to threaten a blockade of the Kurdish region, saying: “All airspace will be closed, flights have already been banned ... Soon the borders will be closed too.”

Macron expressed concern about the escalating dispute. He said France supports the territorial integrity of Iraq and called for “national reconciliation and inclusive governance,” noting France’s close ties to the Kurds.

He said dialogue “is the only path” out of the crisis, and said France is ready “to contribute actively to mediation.”

Despite the political wrangling, the Kurdish forces and the Iraqi army have kept up coordination in the Hawija area as the last pockets of ISIL territory are retaken, a U.S. coalition spokesman said.Speech

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