The United Nations' top official in Iraq said Wednesday that Iraq’s security forces are making slow but deliberate progress against self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) fighters who control large swaths of that country’s territory.
Jan Kubis told the U.N. Security Council that since mid-July, the security forces and Shi'ite militias, supported by international coalition airstrikes, have pushed back IS fighters from towns and villages, and significantly, liberated the country’s largest oil refinery from the terror group’s control.
“The pro-government forces have proven their ability to conduct military operations in several areas simultaneously,” said Kubis.
The envoy said Iraqi forces and tribal volunteers are planning more liberation operations in areas such as the Anbar province capital, Ramadi, and in the northern Kurdish region.
“Recent successes are telling us the morale of the fighting forces is high on the side of the government, and they are able now to register successes,” he told reporters. “It’s better planned, better supported by the international coalition, so we see results.”
He cautioned, however, that ISIL, as the group is also known, is far from defeated. “ISIL continues to possess the funding and military capacities to prolong its reign of terror over large swaths of Iraq.”
Growing humanitarian crisis
IS began its land grab in Iraq last year, seizing at least a third of the country, and displacing more than 3 million terrified civilians in the process. Thousands of Iraqis are also seeking safety by making the often dangerous trip to Europe over land or by sea.
The latest U.N. report on the situation in Iraq expresses concern about IS abuses of civilians, including killings, abductions, rape, torture, forced recruitment of children and looting. The group is also believed to still be holding captive some 1,500 women and children from the minority Yazidi community.
The United Nations says more than 8.6 million people – nearly a quarter of the population – need urgent humanitarian assistance; but severe funding shortfalls have forced agencies such as the World Food Program to cut rations and reduce the value of food vouchers. Kubis said further reductions may be required if donors do not step up soon.