Key Town Retaken amid Regional Power Plays

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. 

Key Iraqi border town retaken amid regional power plays

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi raised the Iraqi flag Nov. 5 after climbing a sandy berm from which Islamic State (IS) flags could be seen about 200 meters (656 feet) away on the Syrian side of the border.

Al-Monitor’s reporter was the only Western journalist reporting from the border area at Qaim with the Iraqi forces in the first few days after the town's liberation, according to several officers on the front. No Western media were present during the actual operation, they said, during which access to even the surrounding area was severely restricted.

The city of Qaim, along Iraq’s westernmost edge, was proclaimed liberated Nov. 3, even though some of the nearby areas were not cleared until the following day.

The Iraqi army, counterterrorism forces and local tribal fighters trained by the international anti-IS coalition and non-local Popular Mobilization Units took part in the fighting.

Al-Monitor saw no civilians in the central areas or near the Syrian border while driving through the dusty, heavily damaged wasteland of Qaim’s streets Nov. 5. In the days following the liberation, Al-Monitor visited the only three families said to have remained in one area of the city.

A Nov. 6 sandstorm covered Qaim with a copper-colored layer of dust, severely limiting the visibility in the town and along the entire road toward it from the Jazeera operations headquarters in Haditha, roughly 150 kilometers (93 miles) away along a road torn up by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that dips through wadis and passes by destroyed bridges.

A long string of knocked-down electricity transmission towers, still seemingly fully intact otherwise, can be seen from the road. There is no cellphone reception of any kind in the area. Frequent firing could be heard from the Iraqi side of the border at Qaim toward al-Bukamal in Syria on Nov. 6.

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