By Shelly Kittleson for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
After a week of long hauls through threatening desert terrain and villages to take up positions, Iraqi troops and local fighters on Nov. 17 captured Rawa, the last urban bastion held by the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq.
The operation to retake the city and the surrounding area had officially begun on Nov. 11 as part of the fight to recapture all of western Anbar province. The fighting got underway in September, after an initial push in January enabled preparations close to the major cities still under IS control at that time along the Euphrates.
Scores of tanks and armored vehicles, backed by international coalition airstrikes, approached the city on Nov. 14 via a circuitous route from the Jazeera Operations Command in Haditha and the Al-Asad air base in the town of Baghdadi.
The journey required several hours of driving westwards on heavily damaged roads to the border town of Qaim, captured a week before, prior to crossing the Euphrates and essentially making a U-turn and heading back toward the east.
The 7th and 8th Divisions of the Iraqi army and local Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) trained by the international coalition were forced to traverse the only bridge in the area left usable for crossing the Euphrates, after years of airstrikes and destruction by IS, and then move toward the city via lengthy desert tracts and low-lying areas near the river.
Only shortly before the final push began was a pontoon bridge installed across the Euphrates close to the city to facilitate movement from the southern bank.
Improvised explosive devices constituted a major threat en route, as evinced by signs of recent explosions along the road to the front, plumes of smoke arising from controlled detonations and the death of one member of a PMU militia’s media team on Nov. 16. Casualty figures for Iraqi forces are not released as a matter of government policy, so it is not known how many troops were lost to the devices.