BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s Iran-backed Shi‘ite paramilitary force said on Sunday it had dislodged Islamic State from a number of villages west of Mosul, scoring further progress toward the border with Syria.
The villages taken by the Popular Mobilisation paramilitary force include Kojo, where Islamic State fighters abducted hundreds of Yazidi women in 2014, including Nadia Murad and Lamiya Aji Bashar, recipients of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought.
Kojo and the other villages of the Sinjar mountain region will be returned to the Yazidi community, a Popular Mobilisation leader, Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, told Iraqi state television.
Popular Mobilisation is taking part in the U.S-backed Iraqi campaign to defeat Islamic State in Mosul and the surrounding province of Nineveh. The force reports nominally to Iraq’s Shi‘ite-led government and has Iranian military advisers.
Iraq’s government is aiming to control the border area with Syria in coordination with the Iranian-backed army of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Linking up the two sides would give Assad a significant advantage in fighting the six-year rebellion against his rule.
The region immediately alongside the border on the Iraqi side is either under the control of Islamic State or Kurdish forces. Islamic State also controls parts of Syria.
Iraqi government armed forces are focusing their effort on dislodging insurgents from the city of Mosul, Islamic State’s de-facto capital in Iraq.
Since the campaign started in October, the insurgents have lost the city except for an enclave alongside the western bank of the Tigris river.
On Saturday Iraqi forces launched an operation to capture the enclave, which includes the densely populated Old City center and three adjacent districts.
The fall of the city would, in effect, mark the end of the Iraqi half of the “caliphate” declared nearly three years ago by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from Mosul.
Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Susan Thomas