PM says Iraq to repatriate Iraqi IS fighters held in Syria

A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces walks near a military vehicle near Baghouz a village in Deir Az Zor province

Fighting between USA -backed fighters and IS inflicted more casualties among people fleeing the violence in eastern Syria Tuesday where the extremists are on the verge of losing the last area they control.

"They said only the Syrians and Iraqis can be smuggled out", said one of the women, who gave her first name as Christelle, from the city of Bordeaux.

A day earlier, the state news agency SANA said as many as 70 civilians were killed and wounded by US -led airstrikes on the last IS-held areas.

In the past 2 months, more than 37,000 people, mostly wives and children of jihadist fighters, have fled into SDF-held areas, the Observatory says.

United States airstrikes have been killing growing numbers of civilians in and around these "last" ISIS-held towns, and while the heavy U.S. air support has been key to keeping ISIS on the defensive, the civilian casualties are likely to breed resentment among those left in the area.

"There are mines throughout the sector", said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based war monitor.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said the group is all but defeated, and announced in December that he would withdraw all American forces from Syria.

This frame grab from video posted online January 18, 2019, by supporters of the Islamic State group, purports to show a gun-mounted IS vehicle firing at members of the USA -backed Syrian Democratic Forces, in the eastern Syrian province of Deir el-Zour, Syria.

In an open field serving as the main civilian reception location, about 300 women and children, nearly all of them Iraqi, sat in small groups.

In Syria, meanwhile, SDF fighters continued in their last push against ISIS in their latest offensive that began Saturday night.

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Hundreds of people fled the IS holdout in the night of Tuesday to Wednesday, SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali said.

Syria's Kurds hold hundreds of suspected foreign IS fighters and have long urged their home countries to repatriate them, but these have been reluctant.

The SDF made "slow and methodical" progress in the battle near the Iraqi border, according to the US -led coalition backing it.

Acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan on Tuesday made an unannounced visit to Baghdad and met with the Iraqi premier over a continued USA troop presence in Iraq after a pullout from Syria.

A senior Iraqi intelligence official said up to 20,000 Iraqis, including IS fighters, their families and refugees will be brought back home by April where many of them will live in a tent settlement in western Anbar province.

Abdul-Mahdi's announcement came a week after the USA called on other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens who travelled to Syria to fight with IS and who are now being held by Washington's local partners.

A US official said Guantanamo is the "option of last resort".

Sending Islamic State prisoners to Guantanamo would open up new legal challenges, according to experts. Britain refuses to take back citizens who joined ISIS and has reportedly stripped them of their citizenship.

"Most are foreigners, Iraqis, Europeans".

More than 20,000 people have left the IS-held area and a lot of them have been moved to al-Hol camp settlement in Syria's northeastern province of Hassakeh, where human conditions are miserable and more than two dozen children have died in recent weeks.

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