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Iraq claims victory in Islamic State’s last urban stronghold

BAGHDAD — The Iraqi government said Thursday that its forces had driven Islamic State fighters from the northern city of Hawija, the militants’ final urban stronghold in Iraq, three years after they seized control of nearly a third of the country.

Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, said in a televised appearance in Paris that Hawija had been “liberated,” calling it a “victory not just for Iraq but for the whole world.”

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The fall of Hawija was confirmed in a statement Thursday by the US-led coalition.

Although fighting is continuing in surrounding districts, the fall of the Hawija area would add to a series of crushing blows for the militants in Iraq, who would be left in control of only a string of desert outposts in the Euphrates River valley and the city of Qaim, on the border with Syria.

Morale among militants in and around Hawija appears to be deteriorating rapidly. At least 600 men identified by Kurdish forces as Islamic State fighters have surrendered to the Kurds in Kirkuk, about 35 miles from Hawija. An additional 400 are being interrogated on suspicion of being militants. Together, they represent roughly a third of an estimated 3,000 Islamic State fighters in the Hawija area before Iraq began military operations there on Sept. 21.

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