Henry Kincaid and Jalil Javed
DIBIS, Iraq — More than a thousand Islamic State fighters have surrendered after losing one of their major strongholds, the city of Hawija. Prisoners, who had previously pledged to fight for the Islamic State, have surrendered en masse to the Iraqi army this Sunday. The men were taken to a military compound in Dibis, where they were told to divulge all they knew about the militant group.
According to a report from Rod Nordland of the New York Times, many fighters claimed to have been cooks, construction workers, and clerks from varying walks of life. Captured soldiers apparently often claimed to be cooks as a means of escaping punishment, usually with the hopes of distancing themselves from the front line fighters that populate the militant group’s ranks.
For an extremist group that has made its reputation due to its ferociousness, with fighters who would often choose suicide over surrender, the fall of Hawija has been a notable turning point. The group has suffered a string of humiliating defeats in Iraq and Syria, including having lost the major Syrian city of al-Mayadin this Saturday, but the number of soldiers that surrendered in Hawija was still unusually large, more than a thousand since Sunday, according to recent reports from officials.
The Iraqi offensive in the city of Hawija against the Islamic State began in late September but has now finally ended. According to the Joint Operations Command, 385 Islamic State troops had been killed during the second phase of the Hawija offensive, but this figure discounts those killed in the primary stages of surrounding and entering the city, as well as those killed in the final skirmishes nearing the end of the operation.
The Iraqi Defense Ministry’s War Media Cell believes that 557 militants were killed in total, while over 100 regions and villages had been liberated by the Iraqi military from Daesh.
The liberation of Hawija was officially announced by the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haidar al-Abadi, last Thursday, but the battle for Rawa and al-Qaim still remain.
With Hawija now in the hands of the Iraqi government, the Islamic State in Iraq will severely struggle; it must now attempt to recuperate numbers lost, and double down on the land it has left. The only areas still controlled by IS in Iraq border that of the land they occupy in Syria, particularly the town of al-Qaim, the site of a previous battle in 2005 between the US military and Al Qaeda.
If al-Qaim was to be reclaimed by the Iraqi military, it would spell the definitive end of ISIS occupation in Iraq.
The cross-border, self-proclaimed ‘caliphate’ effectively ended back in July/August when Mosul, the, in effect, capital of Daesh, was recaptured by the US-backed Iraqi forces after three years of IS control.
The Battle for Mosul lasted a little over nine months, killed tens of thousands of soldiers, militants, and civilians, and displaced well over one million people. Today, while some have returned, Mosul is little more than a ruin, with very few structures left without permanent damage. Civil Defense workers are still, several months later, thoroughly searching through the rubble to find bodies.
Deash recently released an audio clip, supposedly from their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, stating that he was still alive despite many earlier reports to the contrary. In the tape, Baghdadi spoke of several issues, including international politicals such as North Korea and America’s recent verbal fracas, but mainly focused on the topics of Syria, Iraq, and the Islamic State.
Russia had previously reported that they had killed Baghdadi back in May, but several reports of Baghdadi being sighted in border towns around Iraq and Syria have subsequently come to light.
Featured Image Credits: Ivor Prickett/New York Times