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Islamic State cedes little ground despite air attacks

Updated: 2014-12-05 08:21
By Agencies in Baghdad and Beirut (China Daily)

Group's hold on Sunni heartland not seriously challenged by coalition

They have made enemies across the globe and endured three months of US-led air-strikes, but Islamic State fighters have surrendered little of their self-declared caliphate to the broad sweep of forces arrayed against them.

Across thousands of square kilometers in Syria and Iraq, the radical Islamists face an unlikely mix of Iraqi and Syrian soldiers, Shiite and Kurdish militias and rival Syrian Sunni Muslimrebels.

While they have lost towns on the edges of their Iraqi realm, especially in ethnically mixed areas where their hard-line Sunni theology holds little appeal, they have consolidated power in parts of their Sunni Muslim heartland.

In August, Islamic State's attack on Iraqi Kurdish regions was repulsed, and two months later its fighters were driven from the town of Jurfal-Sakhar, south of Baghdad. It was also pushed out of two towns near the Iranian border last month.

But with a few exceptions, such as the army's breaking of an Islamic State siege of the country's largest oil refinery in Baiji, the militants' hold over predominantly Sunni provinces north and west of Baghdad has not been seriously challenged.

Islamic State's opponents say the recaptured towns show the tide has turned in Iraq and the group is on the defensive.

"The best they can do now is to cut a road or attack a patrol, but any advances and gains of territory have been completely stopped," said Hadi al-Amiri, headof the BadrOrganization, a Shiitemilitia that alongwith Kurdish peshmerga spear-headed the recapture of Saadiya and Jalawla, near the Iranian border.

Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, rallying his fighters three weeks ago, said the US dispatch of more military advisers to Iraq showed the oppositewas true.

"The Crusaders' airstrikes and constant bombardment day and night of Islamic State positions have not prevented its advance," he said.

In fact, since Islamic State's June offensive, it has had little success breaking beyond the solidly Sunni Muslim provinces of Anbar in the west and Salahuddin north of Baghdad, as well as the strongly Sunni province of Nineveh, home to the city of Mosul, which the Islamists overran in June.

First travel ban

Australia nominated the Syriancity of Raqqa on Thursday as the first place to be hit with a travel ban under sweeping new counter terrorism measures aimed at blocking jihadists going overseas to fight.

Canberra outlined plans to block citizens traveling to terror hot spots in October amid concern about the flow of foreign fighters joining militant groups in the Middle East such as Islamic State, with 70 citizens believed to have alreadymade the journey.

Under new laws, anyone who heads to nominated areas will face up to 10 years in jail. "Under the provisions of our foreign fighters legislation, I have today declared alRaqqa province an area where a listed terrorist organization is engaging in hostile activity," Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told Parliament.

"This now makes it an offense under Australian law to enter or remain in the province of alRaqqa without a legitimate reason. Anyone who enters or remains faces a penalty of up to 10 years' imprisonment."

Reuters - AFP - AP

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