Residents flee their homes in western Mosul along with their livestock as Iraqi forces battle Daesh for control of the city. Image Credit: Reuters

Sulaimaniyah: Iraq will continue to hit Daesh targets in Syria, as well as in neighbouring countries if they give their approval, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi said on Wednesday.

“I respect the sovereignty of states, and I have secured the approval of Syria to strike positions (on its territory),” he told a conference in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah.

Al Abadi on February 24 announced the first Iraqi air strike inside Syrian territory, targeting Daesh positions in retaliation for bomb attacks in Baghdad.

“I will not hesitate to strike the positions of the terrorists in the neighbouring countries, we will keep on fighting them,” Al Abadi said.

The total damage to property and infrastructure caused by Daesh is about $35 billion, he said.

The terrorist group has lost most Iraqi cities in captured in northern and western Iraq in 2014 and 2015 and is now fighting off a US-backed offensive on its last major urban stronghold, in the city of Mosul. The group also controls parts of Syria.

Meanwhile, Iraqi forces saw off a night-time Daesh counter-attack near Mosul’s main government building hours after recapturing it, a military official said on Wednesday, as troops sought to push the militants further back.

The Daesh fighters had used several car bombs in the assault, Major General Ali Kadhem Al Lami of the Federal Police’s Fifth Division said near the site.

“Today we’re clearing the area, which was liberated,” he said.

Military officials had said that troops from the Rapid Response, an elite interior ministry division, on Tuesday recaptured the provincial government headquarters, the central bank branch and the museum where three years ago the militants filmed themselves destroying priceless statues.

“The museum is completely empty of all artefacts. They were stolen, possibly smuggled,” Lami said.

Reuters was not yet able to access the museum to verify.

Lami said most of the fighters that had fought around the governorate building were local but there were some foreigners.

“An order was issued for foreign fighters with families to withdraw with them. Those who do not have a family should stay and fight whether foreign or local,” he said.

Iraqi forces, backed by US-led air power and military advisers, have fought since October in an intensive campaign to drive the ultra-hardline militants out of Mosul, Daesh’s last major stronghold in the country.

They recaptured the eastern half of the city in January and launched assaults on the western side, across the Tigris river, on February 19.

Daesh fighters are retreating further into the west of the city, military officials say, but are putting up stiff resistance, hiding among the civilian population and deploying car bombs and snipers.