ISIS losing ground in Iraq, gaining it in Syria

The Iraqi government may be finally enjoying some military successes in their struggle to roll back the advancing Sunni Islamic militant group ISIS. On Thursday night, according to Baghdad, the Iraqi army recaptured the city of Awja, Saddam Hussein’s birthplace.

“Backed by helicopter gunships and helped by Shi’ite Muslim volunteers, the army recaptured the village of Awja in an hour-long battle on Thursday night, according to state media, police and local inhabitants,” Reuters reported.

A spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government reported that 30 ISIS militants had been killed in the operation and Awja had been “totally cleansed.”

Awja is located five miles South of Tikrit, a city where Iraqi security forces have been unable to dislodge occupying ISIS forces. “Defense officials in the United States, which has deployed advisers to Iraq, believe the Iraqi army will be able to defend Baghdad but struggle to recapture lost territory, mainly because of logistical weaknesses,” the Reuters report continued.

This setback in Iraq for ISIS fighters was offset by territorial gains made in Syria. According to a report via CNN founded on the observations of a British monitoring group based in Syria, the Sunni militant army successfully achieved a “sweeping land grab” on Thursday capturing a major Syrian oil field.

“A video statement from the leaders in the town of al-Shahil announcing their withdrawal from all anti-ISIS organizations triggered the quick fall of a majority of Deir Ezzour province,” CNN reported. “With Nusra Front’s bastion in the east defeated, ISIS militants simply rolled through, unopposed, staking their black and white flag through most of the oil-rich province, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Deir Ezzour said in a statement.”

The capture of al-Omar oil field, the country’s largest and most important oil facility, with a capacity to produce 75,000 barrels of oil daily, is the jewel in a string of gains that includes a military airport and a local army base.

On Thursday, The New York Times published a fascinating interactive graphic detailing how ISIS had established a “rogue state” between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It is a powerful visual representation of the increasing size of ISIS’s nascent Islamic caliphate.