By for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
The battle of the Euphrates islands: The last stages in the fight against IS
Many islands in the Euphrates River in Anbar province have been or still are under the control of the Islamic State (IS).
These islands have been a haven for IS guerrillas, who use them for military mobilization. Controlling the islands allows IS fighters to dominate the eastern side of the river, which is connected to vast desert areas stretching from Mosul to Anbar all the way to Syria. The eastern side of the river in Anbar is generally sparsely populated.
On Oct. 20, the Iraqi army announced that it was launching an operation in Anbar province simultaneously with the Mosul operation to liberate the last locations IS holds, including Anah, Rawah and Qaim. These areas include islands in the river and land on the eastern side of the river, which all are known under the same name.
For example, Qaim includes several islands in addition to the area around it. The Iraqi army now aims to liberate the islands and the eastern side of the river. The western side was previously liberated.
Liberating the islands and the eastern side of the river should help support the Mosul operation and prevent IS fighters from finding other places to move to after fleeing Mosul.
By liberating these islands and the eastern side of the river, the military units would be killing two birds with one stone. First, this would provide protection to liberated areas from any new attacks, pushing the front lines away from the Euphrates River, not to mention controlling the international highway connecting Iraq with Jordan.
Second, the operation would provide cover for the Iraqi forces advancing toward Mosul, preventing any IS attempt to surround them. This would also prevent IS from returning to the liberated areas for use as safe havens and weapons caches while trying to flee Mosul.