Iraq says ISIS control shrinks to 14 percent of its territory

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Iraq said on Wednesday its U.S.-backed military campaign against Islamic State had retaken around two-thirds of the territory seized by the militants in their lightning sweep across the country's north and west in 2014.

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"Daesh's presence in Iraqi cities and provinces has declined. After occupying 40 percent of Iraqi territory, now only 14 percent remains," government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi said in a televised statement, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

That calculation appeared rosier than recent estimates from Washington. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told Alhurra TV late last month that Islamic State had lost 44 percent of the territory it had held in Iraq.

Iraq's military, along with Kurdish peshmerga forces, Shi'ite Muslim militias and Sunni tribal fighters, have recaptured several cities in the past year, including Ramadi, Tikrit and Baiji.

RELATED: ISIS destroys old monastery

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ISIS destroys oldest Iraq monastery
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Iraq says ISIS control shrinks to 14 percent of its territory
This combination of two satellite images provided by DigitalGlobe, taken on March 31, 2011, top, and Sept. 28, 2014, shows the site of the 1,400-year-old Christian monastery known as St. Elijah’s, or Dair Mar Elia, on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq. These satellite photos obtained by The Associated Press in January 2016 confirm what church leaders and Middle East preservationists had feared: The monastery has been reduced to a field of rubble, yet another victim of the Islamic State's relentless destruction. (DigitalGlobe via AP)
In this Nov. 7, 2008 photo, U.S. Army soldiers tour St. Elijah's Monastery on Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, Iraq. âIt was a sacred place. We literally bent down physically to enter, an acquiescence to the reality that there was something greater going on inside,â remembered military chaplain Jeffrey Whorton. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
In this Nov. 7, 2008, photo, a U.S. Army chaplain gestures toward the place where the 101st Airborne Division's "screaming eagle" was painted above a door at St. Elijah's Monastery on Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, Iraq. The chaplain, recognizing the siteâs historical and cultural significance, kicked the troops out and the U.S. Army began a preservation initiative that became a pet project for a series of chaplains who led thousands of soldiers on tours through its weathered walls. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
FILE - In this Nov. 7, 2008, file photo, U.S. Army soldiers tour St. Elijah's Monastery on Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, Iraq, about 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad. St. Elijahâs has officially joined a growing list of more than 100 demolished religious and historic sites, including mosques, tombs, shrines and churches. The Islamic State group has defaced or ruined ancient monuments in Nineveh, Palmyra and Hatra. Museums and libraries have been looted, books burned, artwork crushed. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)
In this Aug. 21, 2009, photo released by the U.S. Army, visitors assigned to the Logistic Civil Augmentive Program from Forward Operating Base Speicher, near Tikrit, Iraq, stand at the entrance to the ruins of St. Elijahâs Monastery after completing a tour there, at Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, Iraq. The 1,400-year-old monastery has been reduced to a field of rubble, yet another victim of the Islamic State's relentless destruction. (MC1 (SCW) Carmichael Yepez/U.S. Army via AP)
In this Jan. 21, 2009, photo released by the U.S. Department of Defense, a soldier walks toward St. Elijahâs Monastery at Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, Iraq. The Islamic State group, which broke from al-Qaida and now controls large parts of Iraq and Syria, has killed thousands of civilians and forced out hundreds of thousands of Christians, threatening a religion that has endured in the region for 2,000 years. Along the way, its fighters destroy anything they consider contrary to their interpretation of Islam. (JoAnn Makinano/Department of Defense via AP)
FILE - This Nov. 7, 2008, file photo shows the sanctuary of St. Elijah's Monastery on Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, Iraq, about 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad. Maj. Geoffrey Bailey, now a U.S. Army command chaplain in Kabul, Afghanistan, who led prayers and tours at St. Elijahâs, said the monastery "provided troops a historical glimpse into the great history of Iraq and a chance to indirectly connect with the people who make the country culturally and sociologically rich and worth fighting for.â (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)
This Nov. 7, 2008, photo shows St. Elijah's Monastery on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq, about 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad. St. Elijahâs served as a center of the regional Christian community for centuries, attracting worshippers from throughout the region to pray with its priests. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
FILE - In this Nov. 7, 2008 file photo, U.S. Army chaplain Geoffrey Bailey leads soldiers on a tour of St. Elijah's Monastery on Forward Operating Base Marez on the outskirts of Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq. The oldest Christian monastery in Iraq, St. Elijahâs stood as a place of worship for 1,400 years. Satellite photos obtained by The Associated Press confirm that the monastery in Iraq has been reduced to a field of rubble, yet another victim of the Islamic State's relentless destruction. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)
In this April 3, 2010, photo released by the U.S. Army, soldiers celebrate a Catholic Easter mass at St. Elijah's Monastery on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq. Before it was razed, the partially restored, 27,000-square-foot stone and mortar building stood fortress-like on a hill above Mosul. Although the roof was largely missing, it had 26 distinctive rooms including a sanctuary and chapel. Satellite photos taken after its destruction show âthat the stone walls have been literally pulverized,â said imagery analyst Stephen Wood, CEO of Allsource Analysis, who pinpointed the destruction between August and September 2014. (Staff Sgt. Russell Lee Klika/U.S. Army via AP)
In this Nov. 7, 2008, photo, U.S. Army soldiers tour St. Elijah's Monastery on Forward Operating Base Marez on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq. Maj. Geoffrey Bailey, now a US Army command chaplain in Kabul, Afghanistan, who led prayers and tours at St. Elijahâs, said news of the destruction of the monastery by militants was âincredibly disappointing. In the midst of the strife and suffering of combat, a symbol of hope set against the verdant hills of Mosul sprang forth and provided a momentary respite for weary sojourners, much like it had for...centuries prior.â (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
In this Dec. 7, 2005, photo released by the U.S. Army, soldiers can see the city of Mosul, Iraq, from the top of the stairwell at St. Elijahâs Monastery during a visit arranged by Capt. John P. Smith, a chaplain with the 142nd Corps Support Battalion. U.S. troops and advisers had worked to protect and honor the monastery situated on a Forward Operating Base, a hopeful endeavor in a violent place and time. (Sgt. Mitch Armbruster/U.S. Army via AP)
In this April 3, 2010, photo released by the U.S. Army, soldiers celebrate a Catholic Easter Mass at St. Elijah's Monastery on the outskirts of Mosul, Iraq. Satellite photos obtained by The Associated Press confirm the worst fears of church authorities and preservationists: Iraq's oldest Christian monastery has been completely wiped out since the takeover of Mosul by the Islamic State group. (Sgt. Shannon R. Gregory/U.S. Army via AP)
**APN ADVANCE FOR NOV 23** U.S. Army soldiers tour St. Elijah's Monastery, which sits on Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Nov. 7, 2008. In a country where Christians have become a threatened and dwindling minority, U.S. forces are safeguarding a 1,400-year-old monastery -- Iraq's most ancient -- against a time when peace, reconciliation and archaeological detective work may occur.(AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
**APN ADVANCE FOR NOV 23** U.S. Army soldiers tour St. Elijah's Monastery, which sits on Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Nov. 7, 2008. In a country where Christians have become a threatened and dwindling minority, U.S. forces are safeguarding a 1,400-year-old monastery -- Iraq's most ancient -- against a time when peace, reconciliation and archaeological detective work may occur.(AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
**APN ADVANCE FOR NOV 23** The sanctuary of St. Elijah's Monastery, which sits on Forward Operating Base Marez is seen in Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Nov. 7, 2008. In a country where Christians have become a threatened and dwindling minority, U.S. forces are safeguarding a 1,400-year-old monastery -- Iraq's most ancient -- against a time when peace, reconciliation and archaeological detective work may occur.(AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
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Yet Islamic State still manages to launch deadly attacks in areas under the government's nominal control. On Wednesday, a suicide car bomb in Baghdad's Sadr City district killed at least 52 people and wounded more than 78.

Iraqi officials say they will retake the northern city of Mosul this year, but in private many question whether that is possible.

Iraq's military opened a new front in March against the militants in the Makhmour area, which it called the first phase of a wider campaign to recapture Mosul, around 60 km (40 miles) further north. Progress has been slow, and to date Iraqi forces have taken just five villages.

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