CAIRO - Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi condemned on Thursday a Turkish military deployment in Iraq as a violation of international law, at a meeting called by Baghdad to pressure Ankara on withdrawing the forces.

“The Turkish military incursion into Iraq is a clear violation of international law and Iraqi sovereignty,” Arabi said at the start of the foreign ministers meeting in the Cairo headquarters of the pan-Arab bloc. Turkey announced on Saturday that it had begun withdrawing troops in a bid to de-escalate a bitter row with Baghdad and following a call from US President Barack Obama.

Earlier this month, Turkey deployed troops to a base in Nineveh province where it has a long-running training programme for forces battling the Islamic State jihadist group. Ankara had said the deployment was routine and necessary to protect the trainers, while Baghdad said it was unauthorised and protested to the United Nations Security Council.

Moreover, An alliance of Kurdish and Arab rebels advanced Thursday against the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria’s north in a new offensive backed by US-led air strikes, its spokesman said. Talal Sello, spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, told AFP the SDF offensive was launched late Wednesday in Aleppo province. “The battle now is aimed at the liberation of areas south of the town of Sarrin to the Tishreen Dam” on the Euphrates River, Sello said. Kurdish forces pushed IS out of Sarrin in July.

SDF fighters, which predominantly hail from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), had advanced to within 12 kilometres (less than eight miles) from the dam by Thursday, according to Sello. The dam, been held by IS since 2014, helps generate electricity for large parts of Aleppo province, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

IS also controls the Euphrates’ western bank - from the northernmost point at Jarablus, which lies on the Syrian-Turkish border, south and further east all the way to Raqa. Manbij and Al-Bab, IS’s strongholds in Aleppo province, lie west of the river as well.

Syrian forces, backed by Russian air strikes, have made gains against IS south of those towns. “Fierce clashes are continuing along the eastern banks of the Euphrates,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said Thursday.

He confirmed that the SDF had advanced along the banks, but said most of the territory captured consisted of small villages. Sello said the SDF was receiving backing from the US-led coalition conducting an air war against IS in both Syria and Iraq.

A coalition statement Thursday said strikes conducted the previous day hit near Manbij and destroyed an IS fighting position and a logistics facility. Formed in October, the SDF has scored a series of successes against IS in northeastern Syria and appears to be extending its operations further west.

Moreover, Iraqi forces battled the last jihadist fighters holed up in the centre of Ramadi city Thursday, slowed in their advance by stiff resistance, booby traps and fears for trapped civilians. Fighting raged around the former government headquarters in Ramadi, a key position whose recapture by federal forces would mark another key step toward reclaiming the city they lost to the Islamic State group in May.

“The Iraqi forces are in Hoz neighbourhood about 500 metres (yards) away from the governmental complex,” an army lieutenant-colonel told AFP from Anbar province. “They are advancing very cautiously” in the southern neighbourhood of Hoz, said Sabah Karhout, the head of Anbar provincial council.

He said the huge number of improvised explosive devices planted by IS fighters in the city and the possible presence of trapped civilians being used as human shields were the main impediments. “There’s stiff resistance, there’s been fierce fighting over the last 24 hours in the southern part of Ramadi city,” said the US-led coalition’s spokesman, Colonel Steve Warren.

“They’ve established a strong defence using improvised explosive devices as mine fields, booby traps, rigging entire houses to explode,” he said. Iraq’s 8th division commander, Brigadier General Majid al-Fadlawi, said his men alone had defused hundreds of bombs in the past few days. Ramadi has suffered extensive destruction in months of fighting and Fadlawi said “some of the booby-trapped houses had to be remote-detonated to avoid casualties among the ordinance experts”.

IS has positioned around 100 fighters along the main approach to the government complex, Warren said. “Because of the restrictive nature of the terrain, it’s difficult to mass combat power. It’s easy for a small number of people to hold a large number of people off,” he said. At least one government fighter was killed and seven others wounded in the latest hours of fighting in Hoz, the Iraqi army lieutenant colonel said.

And 22 wounded soldiers were brought in early on Thursday, said a medic at Abu Ghraib hospital, west of Baghdad. Statements issued by IS spoke of higher casualties among government forces, including in an attack it said carried out with five suicide bombers early Thursday west of Ramadi. It said the suicide commando crept up on a police position in an area called Kilo 110 and killed several of the forces there before setting fire to the armoury.