Iraq: IS Control Shrinks to 14 Percent of Its Territory

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -
FILE - Smoke rises from Islamic State group positions after an airstrike by U.S.-led coalition warplanes in the Iraqi city of Ramadi in this Dec. 25, 2015 file photo during the Iraqi government offensive that drove the militants out of the city. Ramadi, the provincial capital of Iraq’s Sunni heartland, was declared “fully liberated” early this year. But the cost of victory may have been the city itself, with widespread destruction from strikes, artillery and the militants' scorched earth tactic of destroying buildings and infrastructure as they fled. (AP Photo, File)
Smoke rises from Islamic State group positions after an airstrike by U.S.-led coalition warplanes in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, Dec. 25, 2015. (AP Photo, File)

Iraq said on Wednesday its U.S.-backed military campaign against the Islamic State terror group had retaken around two-thirds of the territory seized by the terrorists in their lightning sweep across the country’s north and west in 2014.

“Daesh’s presence in Iraqi cities and provinces has declined. After occupying 40 percent of Iraqi territory, now only 14 percent remains,” government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said in a broadcast statement, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

That calculation appeared rosier than recent estimates from Washington. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Alhurra channel late last month that Islamic State had lost 44 percent of the territory it had held in Iraq.

Iraq’s military, along with Kurdish peshmerga forces, Shiite Muslim militias and Sunni tribal fighters, have recaptured several cities in the past year, including Ramadi, Tikrit and Baiji.

Yet Islamic State still manages to launch deadly attacks in areas under the government’s nominal control. On Wednesday, three suicide car bombs in Baghdad killed over 70 people and wounded dozens more.

Iraqi officials say they will retake the northern city of Mosul this year, but in private many question whether that is possible.

Iraq’s military opened a new front in March against the militants in the Makhmour area, which it called the first phase of a wider campaign to recapture Mosul, around 40 miles further north. Progress has been slow, and to date Iraqi forces have taken just five villages.