Nighttime, early morning bombings in Baghdad kill 31

The sides are vying for pole position in the next major phase of the fight against Islamic State: the battle to dislodge it from the eastern Syrian province of Deir al-Zor where numerous jihadists have relocated from Raqqa and Mosul.

Police forces, backed by drones that fired missiles, struck the defenses of the Islamic State (IS) prior to the advance into Zanjili and also destroyed nine motorcycles in the narrow alleys of the old town of the provincial capital of Nineveh, Jawdat added. It also sets up a potential showdown between the US and forces aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The massing of hundreds of pro-regime forces outside of Tanf was described as unsafe and a "direct threat" to coalition forces, by CENTCOM officials.

The maneuver could also be the prelude to a connection with the Assad's Iranian-backed forces, although they are yet to reach the Iraqi border from the Syrian side.

The Nineveh foothold would give the paramilitary forces considerable leverage politically and militarily in Iraq after the fight against IS is concluded, according to Maria Fantappie, the senior Iraq researcher for the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental research firm.

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"Altogether, since the start of Mosul, 760,000 civilians have left their homes, and we are looking at the possibility of another 200,000 civilians leaving", she said.

Al-Nouri told The Associated Press on Monday that numerous surrounding villages have already been taken from IS.

"This will be the first step to the liberation of the entire border", said Ahmad al-Asadi, a spokesman for the Iranian-backed militia.

SUSANNAH GEORGE: Well, Iraqi officials and coalition officials will say that these bombings in Baghdad, at the same time that losing ground on the front lines in places like Mosul, are an effort to distract from those territorial defeats, that it's actually a sign of weakness.

Two armoured vehicles newly delivered to the Tanf garrison were shown in photos sent to Reuters from a rebel source.

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At the beginning of the year, the USA -backed forces recaptured the eastern part of the besieged city.

"The coalition dropped leaflets over the weekend demanding that the pro-regime troops withdraw from this deconfliction zone", he said.

The Syrian army could not be reached for comment. Before the PMF was sanctioned by the Iraqi government al-Nujaba fighters openly fought inside Syria, helping prop up the Assad regime during the early days of the uprising against his government.

The commander, a non-Syrian, said Assad's enemies were committed to blocking "what they call the (Shi'ite) Crescent".

"The regime and its allies are racing to establish an east-west "Shiite axis" from Iran to Lebanon, and the United States [is] seemingly looking to cement a north-south "Sunni axis" from the Gulf states and Jordan to Turkey", Balanche said.

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But the Iraqi forces backed by Iran can not as yet link up with the Syrian Army and allied Iranian-backed militias in Syria, as Assad's forces have not as yet reached the Iraqi border from the Syrian side, despite concerted efforts in recent weeks.

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