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Iraqi Forces Launch Operation to Clear Last Islamic State Positions In Desert

Armored vehicles take position in the middle of a desert near Syria border, Iraq in this still image taken from a video obtained by Reuters on Nov. 23, 2017. (Hashid Shaabi/Handout via Reuters TV)

Iraqi military officials say government forces launched an operation Thursday to clear the last Islamic State fighters from positions in the desert bordering Syria.

In a statement, the military said troops from the Iraqi army and Shi'ite Popular Mobilization Forces were taking part in the campaign to flush out militants hiding in a large section of border land.

The Reuters news agency quoted Army Colonel Salah Kareem as saying the objective is to prevent remaining IS groups from disappearing into the desert region and using it as a base to launch future attacks.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Tuesday Islamic State fighters had been defeated militarily, but he would only declare final victory after the militants were routed in the desert.

Iraqi forces captured the last remaining town under IS control last week, signaling the collapse of the group's self-proclaimed "caliphate" after it overran much of Iraq's north and west in 2014.