Iraqi forces announce capture of border crossing with Syria, Jordan from IS

Members of Iraqi rapid response forces and a member of federal police gather next to a tank during a battle against Islamic State militants at the Bab al-Tob area in Mosul, Iraq, March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Ari Jalal

Iraqi forces captured Saturday a border crossing point to Syria from the Islamic State group, increasing pressure on the extremists and getting closer to meeting up with Syrian troops and their allies who reached the border earlier this month for the first time in years.

Tribal forces and border police, supported by Iraqi and U.S.-led coalition aircraft, took part in the operation to take the al-Waleed crossing, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command said in a statement.

Al-Waleed, in the far west of Iraq, fell to the Islamic State group in 2015, giving the militants full control of the Iraq-Syria border, which they vowed to erase as part of their ambition to build their caliphate.

Saturday’s push by Iraqi troops came nearly three weeks after Iraq’s paramilitary forces — mostly Shiite fighters with close ties to Iran referred to as the Popular Mobilization Forces — reached the Syrian border in northeastern Iraq.

In recent months the militants have been coming under increasing pressure in Iraq and Syria where they have lost vast parts of the land they declared as a caliphate in Syria and Iraq in June 2014.

U.S. troops and Syrian opposition fighters control the Tanf area on the other side from al-Waleed. Earlier this month, Iranian-sponsored pro-Syrian government forces outflanked U.S. advisers and rebels holding the Tanf border crossing to establish their own link to Iraq for the first time in years. The Iraqi side is still held by IS.

Syrian troops in the area are preparing to march on Islamic State positions to the north, in the Euphrates River Valley.

The push by Iraqi forces came as the Syrian military announced Saturday the cessation of all combat operations in the southern city of Daraa for 48 hours in support of national reconciliation efforts after days of violence in the area.

The announcement comes days after the contested city witnessed some of the worst fighting in months amid fears by opposition activists that the government will try to take Daraa, where the country’s civil war began in 2011.

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