- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2017

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad chalked up a big victory against the Islamic State’s presence in the country, announcing Friday it had recaptured one of the terror group’s last major redoubts in the country.

Damascus officials said government troops, presumably with assistance from Iranian paramilitaries and Russian air power, have completely liberated the eastern Syrian city of Deir el-Zour from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

“The armed forces, in cooperation with allied forces, liberated the city of Deir el-Zour completely from the clutches of the [Islamic State] terrorist organization,” Syrian military commanders told Reuters.

Members of the Assad regime made the victory official via a one-line statement via state media, saying the city “is completely liberated from terrorism.”

Reports of Deir el-Zour’s fall to Assad’s forces came as Iraqi commanders it had begun its offensive against the critical Islamic State-held city of al Qaim, nearly 250 miles northwest of Baghdad along the Iraqi-Syrian border.

Iraqi military and counterterrorism troops, along with federalized Shia militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF, broke through the city limits Friday morning. Like Deir el-Zour in Syria, al Qaim is the last major Islamic State hotbed in Iraq after the terror group lost its northern Iraqi stronghold of Mosul in June.

But Damascus’ recapture of Deir el-Zour, the Islamic State’s lone stronghold after U.S.-backed forces drove the group out of Raqqa last month, could have a much larger impact on the prevailing post-Islamic State power structure evolving in Syria.

Since the effective defeat of anti-government forces in Syria, culminating with the Assad regime’s brutal capture of the rebel-held Aleppo late last year, Damascus has leveraged the ongoing war against the Islamic State to reassert control over the country torn apart by six years of civil war.

The victory in Deir el-Zour could also improve Moscow’s hand in the Middle East, as Russia looks to expand its influence in the region as Assad’s only international ally.

For now, Moscow and the Assad regime must seize control of Deir el-Zour’s massive oil and gas resources in order for Mr. Assad to secure the economic resources needed to bring Syria back under the regime’s thumb, regional analysts say.

In the long term, a Syria firmly under regime control could allow Moscow to expand its military holdings in the country far beyond its key naval seaport in the costal Syrian city of Tartus and its major airbase in Latakia, they added.

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