In this Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018 photo, a fish seller cleans fish at a market in Qaim, Anbar province, Iraq. (AP/Hadi Mizban)
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More than a year after the Iraqi town of Qaim was freed from Daesh (ISIS), booms from airstrikes still echo and columns of smoke rise beyond the berms and concrete walls marking the border with Syria. There, on the other side, the fight is raging to capture one of the militants' last enclaves. Iraqi troops and Shiite militiamen outside Qaim watch over a giant earth barricade topped with barbed wire that runs along the long, featureless desert border, trying to prevent Daesh infiltration. Iraqi artillery and U.S.-led coalition warplanes bombard Daesh positions inside Syria, while Iraqi militiamen along with allied Iranian troops cross the border to back Syrian government forces there. Many checkpoints fly both Iraqi national flags and the militias' banners proclaiming Shiite slogans.On the west bank of the river is the Syrian military, backed by Russian airpower along with Iranian troops and Iraqi militiamen.The Iraqi military believes senior Daesh leadership are among them, possibly top leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.Retaking the enclave has also been slowed by the rivalries among the various forces besieging it, said Iraqi Gen. Qassim Mohamed, commander of Iraqi forces in the Qaim area.Meanwhile, Daesh has turned to insurgent tactics inside Iraq. Many of Qaim's 120,000 residents fled Daesh.
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