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Photograph: Google maps

The Iraqi army on Saturday called on residents of Qayyara, a town held by Islamic State, to leave ahead of a military operation aimed at recapturing the strategic town from the extremist militia.

Qayyara is located around 60 kilometres south of Mosul, which is Islamic State’s stronghold in northern Iraq.

“Our brave troops have encircled the Daeshis and it remains for them to receive orders to storm Qayyara,” the Iraqi Defence Ministry said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State militants.

The ministry added in a statement that the town’s inhabitants must leave “immediately” for safety and head to a nearby government-controlled village and the air base of Qayyara.

Some 79,000 people are believed to have lived in Qayyara before Islamic State seized it in June 2014.

Last month, Iraqi government forces, backed by US-led airstrikes, retook control of the air base of Qayyara from Islamic State.

The facility is located around 50 kilometres south of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, which has been under Islamic State control since mid-2014.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has repeatedly vowed to retake Mosul from Islamic State, which has in recent months suffered several military setbacks and lost ground in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.

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