BAGHDAD: Here is a recap of key cities and towns in Iraq and Syria seized by the Islamic State group or recaptured from the jihadists, as Iraqi forces press an offensive in Ramadi.
RAMADI: A Sunni Arab city 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of Baghdad. It is the capital of Anbar, the country’s largest province, which stretches from the borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to the western approach to the capital.
IS seized Ramadi in mid-May in a major assault involving dozens of suicide bombers driving explosives-rigged vehicles. On December 8, Iraqi troops retook Al-Tameem, a large area on the southwestern side of the city, with support from US-led air strikes.
TIKRIT: The hometown of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein located 160 kilometres (100 miles) north of Baghdad. It was recaptured in April following a major offensive by troops, police and Shiite paramilitaries. The operation, at that time the largest by Iraqi forces against IS, was made easier by the fact that much of Tikrit’s civilian population had fled the city.
SINJAR: Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by coalition strikes recaptured Sinjar, a town 400 kilometres (250 miles) northwest of Baghdad, from IS on November 13. That cut a key supply line linking areas held by the jihadists in Iraq and Syria. IS captured Sinjar in August 2014, and carried out a brutal campaign against the Yazidi minority in the area, including massacres, enslavement and rape.
BAIJI: The Sunni Arab town around 200 kilometres (120 miles) north of Baghdad and the nearby refinery, Iraq’s largest, were recaptured by Iraqi forces in mid-October.
Baiji had been the scene of some of the longest-running battles with IS in Iraq. It lies at a crossroads in the country and its recapture was seen as key to preparing the ground for offensives in Anbar and later Mosul.
MOSUL: Iraq’s second biggest city and capital of Nineveh province, it is 350 kilometres (220 miles) north of Baghdad. IS captured it June 10, 2014 and proclaimed it part of an Islamic “caliphate” that also spans territory in Syria. Two million people lived there before IS arrived, but hundreds of thousands have since left. IS still holds the city.
RAQA: A northeastern Syrian city with 300,000 inhabitants, Raqa has been IS’ de-facto Syrian capital since January 2014. It is a major target of US-led coalition forces, and to a lesser extent, of strikes by Syrian and Russian forces. Those strikes have intensified since a bomb claimed by IS brought down a Russian airliner in Egypt on October 31, killing 224 people, and IS attacks in Paris killed 130 people on November 13.
PALMYRA: This ancient Syrian city is 205 kilometres (130 miles) east of Damascus, and was taken by IS on May 21.
The group has destroyed major archeological features there that were on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites.
KOBANE: This is a Kurdish city in northern Syria on the Turkish border. It became a symbol of the fight against IS and marked the group’s first serious setback since it began to advance in the country in 2013. IS fighters were driven out of Kobane on January 26 after more than four months of fierce fighting with Kurdish forces backed by US-led airstrikes.
The city, known in Arabic as Ain al-Arab, is the capital of one of three semi-autonomous “cantons” that were established by Kurds after the Syrian crisis began.
TAL ABYAD: Another Syrian city on the Turkish border, it was captured by Kurds on June 16, dealing IS one of its most serious defeats to date.
The city had 130,000 inhabitants when the Syrian war began in 2011, and lies on a key supply route between Turkey and Raqa. IS fighters and arms regularly passed through Tal Abyad before its recapture.