DAMASCUS, SYRIA (10:30 P.M.) – On Friday afternoon, the Iraqi Armed Forces officially imposed full control over Al-Qaim after Islamic State militants fled from their long-standing stronghold in the face of hundreds of Humvees, tanks and BMP’s flooding into the city from its southern and eastern gates.
Leading the blitz operation was the seasoned 9th Mechanized Division; however, it was also heavily reinforced by the predominately Shiite ‘Popular Mobilization Units’ (PMU) and Kata’ib Hezbollah, two paramilitary factions that are closely aligned with Tehran.
In addition to retaking Al-Qaim and its strategic crossing, the Iraqi Army also overran all remaining ISIS-held villages along the southern bank of the Euphrates River, effectively restoring the M12 Highway under government control.
Due to this remarkable development, ISIS no longer controls any major cities in Iraq and has been driven into the desert between the provincial border of Anbar and Nineveh. Jihadist forces have reportedly set up a last stand around the town of Rawah, anchored on the northern side of the Euphrates River.
In the coming days, government forces will explore new pincers to crush the war-torn country’s ISIS insurgency once and for all and retake the last stretch of border territory that remains under the control of the self-declared caliphate.
On the other side of the border, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) is racing to liberate the strategic city of Albukamal (Abu Kamal); this Islamic State bastion notably neighbors Al-Qaim and as such poses a threat to Iraqi security forces.
Once the SAA-led thrust into southern Deir Ezzor, dubbed the ‘Big Dawn’ offensive and commanded by none other than Major General Suheil Al-Hassan himself, reaches its seemingly inevitable conclusion, land trade will resume between Baghdad and Damascus through the newly reopened M12 Highway.
On Friday evening, the Iraqi Army set up a series of checkpoints across Al-Qaim and began hunting for ISIS sleeper cells, relying heavily on local informants to point them out.